From Mistakes to Second Place

In 2015, Rob Player, a student at St. Francis of Assisi, entered the Louisville Regional Science & Engineering Fair with a project that seemed like it had failed at first…

He tested how plants react to a space heater. The problem he encountered was that the plants found light coming from tiny holes in the box. The plants started growing toward this small light source, so Rob could not accurately report on the effect of the space heater. This is where he got his idea for the 2016 science fair.

Rob started to research tropisms. A tropism is the movement of a plant in a particular direction caused by an external stimulus.

There are several types of tropisms, so Rob tested oppositional choice between different ones. The decision that stole the show was phototropism (response to light) versus gravitropism (response to gravity).

Naturally, plants want to grow toward light and upward. To see which of these two tropisms the plants would favor, Rob tilted pots of plants sideways and placed the light source below them.

The plants grew downward toward the light, showing they chose light over their tendency to grow upward. Rob mentioned that these plants grew slower than they would have if they had been growing upward to the light.

A plant growing downward toward light
Image source: Luis Cifuentes, “Phototropism Vs. Gravitropism: Basil Plant” on Youtube

Rob said society could benefit from this experiment by finding new ways to grow plants. He said we could use it for indoor farming, growing plants on walls and for growing plants around obstacles.

Rob won second place in the Junior Plant Sciences category at LRSEF in 2016. In reference to how far he has come from the previous year’s experiment, he said, “You do learn from your mistakes.” Even if an experiment seems like a failure, the information learned can be used to create an entirely new experiment with innovative outcomes.