At first glance, Alister Rizzo — decked out in matching rainbow suspenders and bow tie and a hint of magenta highlights in his hair — had all the trappings of a precocious 6-year-old.
When he opened his mouth to describe his entry at the Wayne County Public Schools annual science fair, though, it became readily apparent that he came prepared.
He was a cross between Young Sheldon, the popular TV show about the early life of one of the characters on another CBS show, “The Big Bang Theory,” and “young Einstein,” the description used by WCPS lead science teacher Patricia Velasco in announcing Rizzo as winner of the K-2 category.
“He’s the youngest student in the science fair,” she said Saturday morning during the fair at Goldsboro High School.
An extension of the classroom, the competition allowed students the opportunity to showcase their knowledge and interests in science.
Students from kindergarten through high school who had already won at their respective schools turned out for the next round of competition.
“The Germ Station” was the title of the entry that had already won first place for Rizzo at his school, Meadow Lane Elementary.
“The question was, which will grow the most kinds of bacteria in 10 days — the front doorknob, the toilet seat or my game controller,” he explained. “My hypothesis was, I think the seat will grow the most in 10 days because we put waste in the toilet.”
He easily rattled off the materials and procedure he used, all culminating in proving his prediction.
“My hypothesis was correct,” he said. “All the samples grew a lot of bacteria but the toilet grew the most types. It was about a tie between the toilet seat and the game controller but the toilet seat grew the most kinds of bacteria.”
Rizzo donned a pair of black knit gloves as he explained his project, which included nine petri dishes, “so all the nasty stuff won’t get on my hands,” he said. “Plus they keep my hands warm.”
This was not his first time entering such a competition, he said. Last year, as a kindergartner, he won first place in the same category at his school and second place at the district event. He also netted a third-place win in a STEM fair, receiving a trophy and a medal.
While science is admittedly his favorite subject, he is still, after all, a first-grader. That became apparent when he was asked his future plans.
“I want to be a Ninja trainer,” he said, “because I like Ninjas.”
He has no formal training in the art himself, he said, although he does have a few weapons to speak of — including a butterfly knife and nunchucks, he said.
Everette Graham, a fifth-grader at Grantham Middle School, entered his findings on “Colorful Coolness.”
“I took seven carnations and food coloring in the water,” he said, explaining the process where the flowers changed colors. “We also cut one stem in half and put one side, one half of the stem, in blue water and the other half in red water.
“What it did was split — it did not mix.”
The experiment resulted in one carnation, the yellow one, particularly standing out and showing up the brightest.
“And we also put a bonus one, we tried glow-in-the-dark ones,” he said. “We took a highlighter and we squeezed all the ink out and we stuck a flower in there and we shined a black light on it. It turned into basically a glowing flower around the edges.”
He got the idea from a time-lapsed video of a flower he discovered on the app, TikTok, he said.
“And my mom found some stuff on Pinterest about split (flowers) and glow-in-the-dark ones so I basically learned that you can make different colored flowers,” he said.
Graham was also a returnee for the second year.
“Last year I did one about tooth decay,” he said. “Last year, I (participated) in a STEM fair at the Maxwell Center because I won second place in my whole school.
“I did not win anything at the Maxwell Center but I did attend. I love science.”
Norwayne Middle School student Tara Anne Burnham got the idea for her project, “Hen House Rock,” from her animals at home.
“I used my backyard chickens,” she said, estimating she has about 20.
She incorporated music into the mix to determine if the chickens laid more eggs to rock music, country music or no music at all.
“The first week we had no music at all, they laid 40 (eggs),” she said. “The second week, we played country and they laid 40 (eggs).
“Week three, with rock music, they laid 50, and with no music, the week after they heard music, they laid 69.”
Burnham won first place in the Middle School Division, in the Biological Science competition.
Thirteen students will have the opportunity to move on to the regional science fair competition that will be held on Feb. 16 at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Velasco said those chosen for the regional competition will be announced soon.