Sweet Science Fair Project

I absolutely hate science projects. I hated doing them when I was in school and I hate them even more now. Growing up, I was always able to do something that wasn't really a science experiment like once I took apart a phone and labeled the parts with a report on the history of the telephone and how it works. This time I had no such luck. Anna was required for her 5th grade, mandatory, science fair project to:
  • research a subject
  • form a hypothesis
  • conduct an experiment to test this hypothesis
  • analyze the results
  • write it all in a report
  • design a presentation
  • showcase it all at a science fair
Which we all know means I had to do these things with her kicking and screaming the entire way. Back in December we received a packet with step by step instructions of everything we needed to do. It included a timeline which if you did a little each week you would have it all completed in plenty of time with no cramming or stressing out to get it completed in April.

But what fun would that be?

She had to pick her topic back in December which was a pain in its self. I was looking for something easy, something I could understand, preferably something I had the answers to without having to do much research and something she could help with. Several arguments with Anna later we ended up stealing an idea from Alex. You see, he joined the science club at school and this basically meant he was in a group of 3 other students who met once a week (or a month, I can't remember now) to work on a science project for a competition. He was in a group with 3 girls and being a 13 year old boy, I don't get a lot of information out of him. I knew very little about their project but with the bits and pieces he gave I was able to plug together what I thought was the best science project ever.

Science, meet cupcakes.

The idea is to test the effect color has on your perception of taste. Here is how we did ours:
  • We (I) baked 288 mini cupcakes all from white cake mixes (4 boxes). There were made exactly the same. I even used packaged egg whites from a carton so you couldn't say the eggs differed.
  • Then we (I) dyed 3 of the batters different colors, counting the drops of food coloring so they would each get the same. We had white, yellow, blue and brown.
  • We (I) made a large batch of white butter cream frosting and separated in into 4 groups and dyed them to match the cake colors.
  • That gave us 72 sets of 4 mini cupcakes one in each color for the test.
  • Anna took 20 sets to school with her so she could run the experiment with her peers
  • I took the rest to my office so I could run it with my peers.
My office was set up like this:

Here is the survey each respondent filled out:

 Given the research we did on-line I was actually expecting different results. Basically the adults for the most part figured out they were all the same flavors and the colors had little impact.

Of the 50 adults ages 30-60:
  • 1 listed each as a different flavor
  • 5 listed all vanilla except brown as chocolate
  • 5 listed all as vanilla but subtle variations on the type of vanilla
  • 3 listed one color as having a different flavor
  • 36 listed them all as the same flavors

Of the 18 students ages 11-12:
  • 14 listed them all as having different flavors
  • 4 listed them all as vanilla
A few even after hearing they were all vanilla insisted the brown was chocolate. 

During the research we learned after age 20 most people lose 50% of their taste receptors so I sort of thought the kids' taste perception would be less impacted by color than the adults. But we all know kids have a much better imagination and are hopefully more impressionable than adults so maybe that explains the findings.

Anna still has to finish writing her report and make her tri-fold for the presentation but I will say this was a pretty fun little experiment to do. Of course after I had already baked the cupcakes we found examples of the same idea on-line using yogurt or clear soda dyed different colors. That would have been so much easier but who doesn't love cupcakes?

As for Alex and his science group, we just learned that they were regional finalists for their project and won $1,000 in savings bonds. They are preparing for the next round to see if they make nationals. We will find out in May if they made the cut to go to Washington D.C. I haven't met the girls in his group or even seen their project but they have already captured my heart. Look out Ms. Stewart.


Macie R said…
I love this experiment! I'm actually doing it myself soon. I'm probably going to dye the cupcakes pink instead of blue though. I'm going to give the cupcakes to my class of 14-15 year olds and I'm hoping I'll get the same results as this exp. Thanks for posting :)

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