"So. Science fair. What are we going to do?" Matt asked his friend and science partner.
Sean shrugged his shoulders. "I dunno. Something easy."
"Well of course. I mean, as easy as a science fair project can be."
"Let's test to see if we can make a homemade water filter," Matt suggested.
"Why would we need that?"
"Well, you know. It's 1999. With all these Y2K theories going around, it might be a good skill to know."
"Yeah, but by the time this thing is due, it will already be past Y2K, thus making our research completely useless. Or we'll be dead." Sean threw his hands in the air. "Either way, it doesn't make much of an impression."
"Well, we do live right around the New Madrid fault line, so what if there's an earthquake?"
"The New Madrid fault line? What's that?"
"Well, I suppose it would technically be the New Madrid Seismic Zone, since we don't live on the fault line, but that's besides the point. You mean to tell me you've lived in Missouri all your life and you've never heard of the New Madrid fault line?"
Sean stared at Matt, bewildered. "Do I look like I know what you're talking about?"
"No. But you always look like that." Matt said, punching him in the arm. "Anyway, remember back in oh... 1990, I think, when there was that huge prediction about an earthquake?"
"Uh... we were in kindergarten. I don't know about you, but I was too busy playing superheroes to worry about earthquakes."
"Anyway, back in the early 1800s, there was a series of large quakes in Southern Missouri. The largest one was strong enough to change the course of the Mississippi River," Matt explained
"Wow. That's one powerful quake. I don't think I'd want to mess with that!"
"Well, they say it's over due for another 'big one.' So do you want to do this water filter idea, with the rational being earthquake preparation?"
"Sure. Sounds good to me. What do we filter out?" Sean asked.
"Lead? Where are we going to get that?"
"That's a good question." Matt paused. "Are you pondering what I'm pondering, Pinky?" he asked, mimicking a favorite cartoon.
"Uh, I think so, Brain, but if the ants go marching two by two, what happens if the path is only wide enough for one?"
Matt laughed. "No. We ask my mom."
"So. Lead is a no-go. Apparently, they won't ship that stuff without some special permit. Go figure, right?" Matt threw up his hands in mock disgust.
Sean eyed him wearily. "You know, I think even I could have told you that."
"I figure we use chlorine."
"But... don't we want chlorine in our water?"
"Yeah, but not too much. In an earthquake, it's entirely possible that chlorine holding tanks at a water treatment center could burst, contaminating the water with more than is in a swimming pool. Okay, so I don't know that for sure. But that's my story and I’m stinking to it," Matt said.
"So chlorine, and we filter it out with...?"
"Soil and coffee filters," Matt explained.
"And that's going to work?"
"Well, I've done some research on it. Besides, that's why it's called an experiment. Duh."
"Okay, Mr. Smarty Pants."
"High five, Sean! We won our division on the school level!"
"Yeah, but only by default because no one else entered our category."
"True. Anyway, I talked to Ms. Barton, and it's not required, but she'd like us to take it to Regionals," Matt said.
"Yeah. There's only one problem."
"What's that?" Sean asked.
"We need to completely re-do it."
"Yep. She wants us to re-do it... using lead."
"I don't know about you," Sean said, pointing to Matt, "but I'd rather enjoy the next six weeks."
"I'm right there with you."
"So we're done?" Sean asked.
"Done. Now let's go out and play in some soil, rather than filter water with it. Just for the heck of it. It will be like the time we got into my mom's bag of potting soil when we were three."
Sean laughed. "Now that's the best plan I've heard from you since we started this whole thing. Let's go."
This is based on a true story. I really did do a science fair project about making a homemade water filter using soil and coffee filters, though I didn't have a partner. The deadline was right after Y2k, I won at the school level by default, and my teacher suggested I re-do the entire thing using lead instead of chlorine. Apparently, chlorine contamination isn't a threat. Who knew?
In case you're wondering, yes, you actually CAN make a decent water filter using soil and coffee filters; though I wouldn’t advise trying to filter out lead, as my scientific endeavors did not reach that far. Looking back, I wish I had re-done it, but at the time I was done with every single aspect of it, and didn't want to hear the words "science fair" ever again.
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