From studies of the bacteria in a dog’s mouth to the sweetness of sweet corn, some 550 students from across Iowa are showing off their projects to the state science fair, which opened this afternoon in Ames.

Andrea Spencer, director of the 50th annual State Science and Technology Fair of Iowa, says the projects are all over the scientific spectrum, but many are focused on a few particular topics. "They choose in their interest area as to what they really want to develop their science research into, but this year I’m noticing a lot of energy projects, transportation-related or biofuels," she says.  "I think you’re seeing that simply because that’s one of the things in Iowa that’s of interest to us as a population."

This year’s projects include "Mouth Bacteria in Canis familiaris," "Ethanol: Friend or Foe," and "The Levels of E-coli in Lee County Creeks." Spencer says there’s also one called "Is Your Sweet Corn Sweetest at Sunrise?"

"They’ve looked at sugar contents in sweet corn at various time periods throughout the day to see if truly our sweet corn is freshest and sweetest when picked early in the morning," Spencer says. 

The competitors are from Iowa’s middle and high schools and range from 6th to 12th grade. The students are gunning for more than $60,000 in awards and prizes, including $35,000 in scholarships.

Spencer says she hopes the students come to a new understanding of science, have hands-on experience and get to interact with the judges, who are experts in many fields, doctors, professors and other top Iowa professionals.

The top high school team and the top two high school individuals will win all-expenses-paid trips to the International Science and Engineering Fair in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in May.

The fair is free and open to the public at Iowa State University’s Hilton Coliseum today and Saturday.