Middle school parents, beware.
Youngsters across Illinois are preparing for the annual science fair competition.
Why do I warn parents, but not their children? Well, sometimes it seems these competitions are more between adults than their kids.
This year, I sat with my 11-year-old at the kitchen table and we brainstormed potential experiments she could perform.
I suggested measuring how quickly different fabrics burn.
She said it has been done before.
I suggested seeing how detergent affects the germination of oats.
She said it sounded boring.
Then I suggested we devise an experiment on how to best clean up a murder scene. What chemicals will best hide blood evidence from police crime scene technicians? Ammonia? Bleach? Soap?
I explained how we could get the blood from a butcher shop and then use Luminol to see how to best conceal the evidence.
My daughter’s blue eyes grew bigger, she cocked her head to one side and she said, “You want me to do an experiment on how to best get away with murder?”
“Sure, yours will be one of the most visited exhibits at the fair. It will be one that the judges will remember.” I added we are doing this purely for the sake of science.
“Um, Daddy I don’t think my teachers would want me to teach people how to get away with murder.”
Eventually, I was told to back off and let our daughter come up with her own ideas for science fair experiments.
I was feeling a bit down about it until I remembered the ultimate example of parental over- involvement in an experiment.
Back in about 1975, at the Galesburg Junior League’s Science Fair, a junior high kid decided to perform open heart surgery. His father was a physician and his fingerprints seemed all over this project.
A living frog was pinned to a board, its chest cut open and its beating heart was lifted from the cavity with a fishing line. It continued to beat with the blood vessels attached.
Dozens of junior-high kids mobbed the grisly scene. Contest judges hurried over and immediately disqualified the project on grounds of animal cruelty.
At this point, the physician father hollered, “This is not cruel! The frog feels no pain!” The judges persisted and the father yelled louder and louder, “Not cruel! Frog feels no pain!”
One can’t help but wonder what sort of doctor would consider a vivisection of a living animal an appropriate project for a junior high science fair?
We found that answer a decade later. In 1985, the physician, Dr. Antonio SantaMaria, better known as “The Butcher of Galesburg” killed his wife, hacked her into pieces and fed her body into a food processor.
He later returned the food processor to Sears for a refund, saying his wife didn’t like it.
When I read of his conviction, six words echoed through my head: “Not cruel! Frog feels no pain!”
What might have been a more appropriate science fair project for the doctor to defend?
How to get away with murder? Oh wait, what kind of father would suggest that?
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and freelance reporter; [email protected]