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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

Alaska Science Camps, Fairs & Experiments

ANKN is a resource for compiling and exchanging information related to Alaska Native knowledge systems and ways of knowing. We are pleased to create and distribute a variety of publications that assist Native people, government agencies, educators and the general public in gaining access to the knowledge base that Alaska Natives have acquired through cumulative experience over millennia.


Contact the ANKN offices at 907-474-1902 or email

200+ Ideas
for Science Fairs!





Pressed flowers





Fur samples

String games


Musical instruments

Bottle caps

Keys, Key chains and rings

Types of yarn

Bullet cartridges

Animal teeth or claws


Net samples


Animal tracks (impressions)


Traditional music

Empty birds' nests


Nails, screws, fasteners

Types of string, rope, or cloth


Spark plugs

Outboard props

Cards of all kinds




Net hanging

Setting a net: under the ice & in the summer

Drifting with a net

Spear throwing

Accurate rifle shooting

Reloading bullets

Engine trouble shooting

Piloting a boat

Gold panning

Skin sewing

Caribou tufting

Basket making, birch bark, roots, grass, etc.

Skinning animals

Traditional drumming & singing


Sled construction

Fish cutting

Knife sharpening

Animal butchering

Setting traps

Skinning & stretching fur


Fly tying

Fly fishing

Preserving berries

Cutting fish


Drum making

Traditional knots & lashings


  • Why do I feel cold when I walk away from a campfire? Haven't I been warmed? How can I test this?
  • In the winter, why is the temperature lower at sunrise than in the middle of the night?
  • Why does a trail get hard in the winter several hours after the person or animal makes the tracks? How do people use this to determine the direction an animal is traveling in deep snow?
  • What is the weight/surface-area-offoot ratio of different land animals? Is there a relationship between predators and prey?
  • Why do birds like to sit on power lines? Warmth? Vibrations? See predators?
  • What kind of birdseed do the birds in your area prefer? What is the best location, height, and situation for a birdfeeder? Experiment with ways to keep the squirrels out.
  • What is snow blindness? Why is snow blindness more of a problem on a cloudy day and what did oldtimers do to prevent it? Explore this in terms of reflection and wavelengths of light energy.
  • Being undetected is very important during winter hunting. Test the difference in the conductivity of sound in warm or cold air. Would you rather hunt in warm or cold weather as a result of your findings? What effect does wind have on the transmission of sound? What effect does snow on the tree branches have?
  • What did people use before plastic sled runners and what were the implications? Compare traditional runners and modern technology for the coefficient of friction.
  • Why do some sled runners run better on drifted snow and others on powder snow? What is the existing color code for plastic dog sled runners? What does the difference have to do with the effectiveness of the sled runners under different snow conditions?
  • Some people laminate sled runners. Other people bend a solid piece of wood. Which is stronger or better? Why?
  • Steam different kinds of wood. Does this make bending sled runners and handlebars easier? Which is better: The inside of the tree on the outside of the bend, or the outside of the tree on the inside of the bend?
  • Steaming makes bending easier. Does it effect the strength of the wood later? How can you test this?
  • Observe the different types of snow under a microscope. What are the differences in their appearance, density, and texture?
  • Some dogs' feet "snowball" easily and others don't. Why? This has always been critical when mushers select sled dogs.
  • Which is warmer, grass liners or felt insoles? What are the advantages of each?
  • What is the effect of (straw) bedding on sled dogs. Estimate how much dogfeed is saved by using grass or straw bedding for dogs.
  • Why is it hard to breathe in a strong wind? What effect does Bernoulli's principle have to do with emergency snow shelters in survival situations?
  • Mukluks vs. bunny (vapor barrier) boots. They are so different, yet both are exceedingly effective in cold weather. Compare and contrast their effectiveness. How do these differences parallel traditional sod houses and modern houses with insulation and a vapor barrier?
  • Collect some of the liquid that is present in the knee and ankle joints of a caribou or moose. What is the freezing point of that fluid? Test the friction of the joint with and without this fluid. Is the fluid soluble in water or oil? Why doesn't it freeze in severe cold temperatures?


  • How can you tell the weather by the behavior of willow grouse in the winter?
  • Eagles and other birds soar in front of cliffs. Cranes circle in thermals on the tundra in the fall. What air currents are they taking advantage of? What is a thermal?
  • Why do caribou often head into the wind? Why do dogs turn around before laying down outside?
  • Winds and temperatures aloft are often different from the winds on the ground. Why is this? Explore inversion. What is mechanical turbulence? What is wind shear?
  • What is the cause of fog on the ocean or rivers? Can this be simulated?
  • How did the oldtimers tell direction in the tundra wintertime? Is this accurate compared with a compass?
  • What are the weather signs in your area?
  • What do the different types of clouds mean in terms of coming weather? What direction do your storms come from? What direction do your high pressure areas come from?
  • Do the hills appear black just before the weather warms in the winter? If so, why?
  • What phenomenon causes the tops of the hills and mountains to appear upside down during a winter cold spell?
  • People say that a red sky at night means good weather the next day. Red sky in the morning means bad weather during the day. Is this so and why?
  • Oldtimers said if the fog goes up on a summer morning it will be cloudy all day. If the fog goes down, the sky will be clear all day. Is this so? Why?
  • Is there a correlation between the loon calling and a wind following? In other words, is the loon predicting or calling for wind?
  • What do "sun dogs" tell you about the weather in the winter? Does it matter which side of the sun they are on?
  • Oldtimers say that if the moon's crescent is up like a bowl, there will be more snow than if it is sideways. Does science prove this out?
  • What do twinkling stars mean regarding the weather in the winter?
  • What does a ring around the moon mean and why is this so?
  • Why do the river or open leads in ocean ice produce fog? Under what conditions is this so?
  • Is there a correlation between the size of the beavers' feedpile and the severity of the coming winter? Can the beavers foretell an early freezeup by completing their feedpile early?
  • Is there a correlation between the height of fireweed in the fall and the depth of snowfall the coming winter?


  • Why don't wolf and wolverine ruffs frost like other furs? (Or do they frost but don't hold the frost?) Why do men's beards frost easily and remain frozen? Compare with microscopic inspection and other tests.
  • What are the insulating values of different furs?
  • What clothing materials act as the best windbreak? How do modern materials compare with traditional furs?
  • Tanning. What percentage of traditional tanning softness comes from chemical breakdown of the fibers and what percentage comes from physical breakdown of the fibers?
  • Collect some caribou and moose hair. What is the difference between these hairs and beaver or otter hair? People say that caribou hair is hollow. Is it? What is the difference between caribou hairs in different seasons? What is the difference between the guard hairs and the under hairs on a beaver? Which part of a moose or caribou have the toughest fur? The thickest fur? Why?
  • During cold days in winter our noses are often runny. When we wipe them on store-bought mittens or gloves they quickly freeze up. When we use beaver mitts, they don't freeze at all. They remain clean all day. Why is this? Is this also true of other furs like seal, otter, mountain squirrel, etc.?
  • What is the pH of traditional tanning solutions? How does this compare with modern tanning techniques? In traditional tanning, the urine of men was used, but not the urine of women. Is there a difference in the pH of men's urine and women's? Why? Can this also be a factor of diet?


  • Traditional ways of storing berries: What are they and why is each effective? Before most villages had freezers, we packed blueberries in sugar and they didn't spoil. Why is this? You would think sugar would make them ferment more quickly.
  • Why are berries bright colors? What is accomplished by this? What happens to the seeds of the berries we eat? What is the difference between the seeds of the berry and the surrounding sweet berry material? How resistant to acid are the seeds? What would happen if this were not so?
  • Why do fish spoil at 35 and meat is able to keep for a long time at that temperature?
  • What is "freezer burn" on foods in a freezer and how can it be avoided? Experiment
  • How does salt preserve salmon bellies in a barrel? What chemical and biological phenomena are happening? How much salt is used? Are wooden barrels better than plastic containers? How are salted salmon bellies prepared for eating?
  • How does drying fish preserve it? Test different brine solutions for salmon strips. Which do people prefer?
  • Most people say campfire coffee is the best. Run a taste test on campfire coffee, percolated coffee, and filtered coffee. Can people taste the difference? Why is there a difference?
  • Does homemade bread mold faster than store-bought bread? What does this tell you about store bought bread?


  • What are the best materials for casting animal tracks? What are the best conditions for casting tracks?
  • How can you tell the age of animal tracks? How can you tell the difference between a bull and cow of a given species by the tracks?
  • Make a traditional halibut hook. Set it and a modern halibut hook close together. Does one work better than the other? Is there an optimum distance from the bottom of the ocean for the hooks to be set? What is the best halibut bait?
  • What color net is least visible in the waters in your area?
  • What are the favorite lures used by local trollers for different species of salmon?
  • Measure around the gills of a species of fish in your area. Divide this measurement by two. This will give you the optimum stretched mesh for that fish. Measure many fish of that species, average your findings, and compare that measurement with the nets used in your area.
  • What factors most influence the distance a fishing rod can cast? (Weight of lure, length of line off the end of the rod, wind, etc.) Do different rods cast differently? Do different lines cast differently?
  • Are fishing lines that are advertised as 8 lb test, 12 lb test, 20 lb test weaker or stronger than advertised? Does this vary with different brands? Tie them to a fish scale and pull until they break. Read the scale at the point where they break.
  • What is the science of getting a very light flyhook to cast a long distance? Why is flyfishing line tapered? What are the differences between flyfishing and spincasting.
  • What is the science involved in a spinning reel? The drag, the gear ratio, the leverage of the handle, etc.?
  • There are several types of spincasting reels. What are the advantages of each?
  • What are the methods used to call local animals? How are they made? How do they work? What are the different calls that the animals respond to and why?
  • What is refraction and how does it effect spearing fish and animals under the surface of the water?
  • The weight and balance of a harpoon is critical. What happens if the weight is increased or decreased? Test on people of different sizes. How critical is the weight/length ratio?
  • What is the difference between the softness/hardness and shape of bullets? Why is one preferable over the other in different applications?
  • Shotguns: What is the increase or decrease of effectiveness of steel shot compared with lead shot?
  • What are the different methods of calling moose? What are they imitating? Under what conditions is each effective? Record and imitate the different calls.
  • What is the difference between rifle powder, pistol powder, and shotgun powder? (Do not do this without trained adult supervision.) Why is there a difference?
  • When we butcher a caribou or moose, it is much easier to remove the stomach and intestines if the animal is laying on its right side. Why is this? Is this also true of other big animals like walrus and seals?
  • What parts of the body do local hunters try to hit when hunting different animals? What systems are effected? What other systems are available for disabling an animal? Identify the animal's system. Observe and document the damage done by the bullets. What physiological systems did the hunters try to disable in the past with traditional weapons?
  • Caribou and moose are both ruminants. Find their four stomachs. Study the contents of each, and compare the findings with research on other ruminants like cows and sheep.
  • Horses have nerve endings in their feet that allow them, as they stand up, to detect approaching footsteps. Do moose have the same ability? Why do you think so?
  • What is the difference between caribou tracks and moose tracks? What is the difference between a cow and bull of each kind? How can you tell how long ago the animal passed by, given different weather conditions?
  • Why do spruce chicken and grouse eat gravel in the fall? Where does the gravel go in their body? What do they use it for? How are they similar to domesticated fowl?
  • What are the best baits for trapping each kind of animal in your area? Does this vary with the seasons?
  • How do trappers keep steel traps from freezing?
  • Some fishnets are said to be "fishier" than others. (Fishier means they catch more fish.) Why is this? What is the difference in the twine, and the way the net is hung?
  • To what extent does hanging a nylon net in the sun reduce its strength and useful life? How does this compare with the traditional methods of caring for cotton nets?
  • What parasites afflict caribou and moose? Is there any danger for people who eat these animals? Which body parts are more apt to have those parasites? How are the parasites destroyed to make the body part edible?
  • What is "beaver fever"? Where did it come from? When? Is it impacting our animals? If so, is there a natural cure? What will the long term effects be on the animal population? What effect does beaver fever have on humans? What is the human antidote?


  • What muscle groups are used in each Native Youth Olympics (NYO) competition?
  • Which type of wood smoke gives the best taste for eating fish: alder, birch, cottonwood, or willow? Compare these with hickory if possible.
  • What is the relationship of the tension/diameter of the Native drum to pitch? How are they tuned, if at all? What effect does the thickness of skin/membrane have on pitch? What effect does changing the length of the stick have on the response in the beat? How do the newer materials like Ceconite and Stitz (airplane fabric) compare with traditional materials for sound and durability?
  • Compare traditional snowshoe bindings with modern bindings made out of modern materials. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each under all conditions?
  • What are the simple physics of the blanket toss? What are the do's and don'ts of the activity? Why doesn't the individual come down head first? Do heavier or lighter people go higher? Is there an optimum number of people holding the blanket? What happens if they toss the individual too high or too fast? What importance does the blanket material have? Is firm or soft material better? What effect does the wind have on the individual being tossed? What happens if he/she doesn't come down in the middle? (Do we have a "Funniest Home Videos" of the blanket toss?)
  • Traditional methods of firemaking: How did they work? What materials were used for drill and tinder?
  • What modern methods of firemaking are used in your area? What kindling is used? How are fires made in wet weather?
  • Spruce trees peel more easily in some months than others. What are these months, and why are they easier peeling? How can you prevent mildew on the logs once they are peeled?
  • Poles with the complete grain of the tree are stronger than wood cut from a section of a tree. Test the strength of a pole compared with a piece of lumber of similar size. Which is stronger under stress?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of traditional sinew used for thread compared with commercial threads and dental floss? Is it easier to work the sinew if it is held together by beeswax? What was traditionally used before beeswax?
  • Oldtimers used to hunt birds with a sling (a bolo). Some had two weights, some three. Make one of these slings. What is the optimum weight and string length for:
    • Distance throwing
    • Accuracy
    • Manageability
  • Oldtimers in the Interior also hunted birds with an atlatl, a long stick with a notch cut in the end. A smooth flat stone was placed in the notch, and, with practice, was thrown with great accuracy. How much farther can a rock be thrown with one of these compared to a rock thrown by hand? To this day coastal people use an atlatl for throwing a spear at seals so they won't sink. Experiment with different lengths of atlatl, different lengths, weights and balance of spears. Experiment with different tips and feathers. Which is better for distance? Which is more accurate?
  • Oldtimers used to make a "roarer" to drive off wolves. What was the traditional implement in your area? How did it make sound?
  • What type of stitches did the oldtimers use for water boots and skin boats that they didn't leak? How does sinew compare in strength with modern sewing materials?
  • Long ago, Interior people boiled water by putting hot rocks into a birch bark basket until the contents boiled. Being very careful (as some rocks explode when heated) experiment with this. Which works best, a few big rocks or many small rocks? You will have to remove the cooled rocks and replace them with hot rocks.


  • What oils work best in traditional lamps? Try traditional oils such as bear, moose, seal, or walrus and modern oils such as kerosene, stove oil, cooking oil, shortening and motor oil, but do not try highly volatile liquids like gasoline or Blazo. What traditional wicks were used? Which is most effective and durable?
  • What is the best way to store potatoes? Why do they give off heat after they are dug up?
  • What processes of rendering did oldtimers used to extract fat from bears, whitefish entrails, seals, etc.? What are the qualities of these oils? At what temperatures are they solid or liquid? Are they high or low in good and bad cholesterol?
  • Which roots are better/stronger for lashing baskets/fish traps? Willow, spruce, cottonwood? Is there a difference among the roots of each species? Might one root be good for the first year, but decompose before the second year of use? Are there any modern materials that might be as good for lashing fishtraps?
  • Why does a wood stove feel warmer than an oil stove, even at the same room temperature?
  • Where does the most residue collect in the stove pipe of a wood stove? What can be done to prevent this fire hazard?
  • Why do peoples' glasses frost when they come in wintertime? Is there a way to prevent that from happening?
  • What are the physiological effects of a steambath? Are they all good? How do modern soaps cleanse?
  • Some people breathe through a piece of wood, or small bundle of grass while in the steambath. Why do they do this? What science principles are involved? Why do people use brush to slap their skin in the bath?
  • Different kinds of wood produce different kinds of heat in a steambath. Experiment with driftwood, dry spruce, wood from crates and palates and others. Which produces the best heat and why? What is the average temperature of the steambath? (Do not use green, pressuretreated wood. It contains arsenic that has killed people in steam baths.) People who steambath often use the terms "sharp heat" and a "strong heat". What do they mean? What different kinds of wood cause these different types of heat? What happens to the temperature when water is poured on the rocks? Why is this so?
  • Some rocks are acceptable for steambath and some are not? What are the qualities of each? What is their geological origin. Where do people in your village get the desirable rocks?
  • Different kinds of batteries last longer than others. Cheaper batteries aren't always the least costly. Perform a test with a small light bulb. With different batteries, compute the cost of operating a small light in cents per hour. Which batteries are the most efficient, i.e., cheapest use per hour?
  • Experiment with different kinds of matches-paper and wooden-both of different brands. Which strike better under damp conditions or cold conditions? Which are better for the home? Which are better for out in the woods? Look at the strikers under a magnifying glass. What are they made of? Which are more durable? Are there other household materials that will produce enough friction to ignite the matches?
  • There are four variables in producing a sharp knife or tool:
    • The material you are cutting: wood or flesh.
    • The hardness, or type of steel.
    • The tool or instrument you are using to sharpen the blade.
    • The angle at which the blade is sharpened.

Experiment with the above variables. Which types of sharpening instruments are better for wood or flesh: file, stone (there are different kinds of stones), or steels (including those impregnated with diamonds).


  • Snowmachine suspension. What are the advantages of soft/stiff suspension?
  • What is the viscosity of different oils and greases at different temperatures. Polar vs. nonpolar grease: What effect do these have on the life of equipment operated in severe cold temperatures?
  • Some 2-cycle oils are made for fuel-injected snowmachine engines and some are not. Test all kinds of two-cycle oils for their ability to pour in very cold weather. Is there a danger of using some oils that are not made for fuel injected engines?
  • What is the miscability (ability to mix) of 2-cycle engine oils at different temperatures? How much agitation is necessary to thoroughly mix gas and 2-cycle oil at different temperatures?
  • Test lower unit grease in water. How is this grease different from other greases, such as wheel bearing grease?
  • What is the best method/material to repair a hole or crack in an aluminum boat?
  • Some gasoline additives that remove water from gasoline destroy the seals on 2-cycle engines. Put identical seals in gasoline solutions containing Heet, Ban Ice, and other additives. After a period of time, test the seals for flexibility and durability. Are the seals damaged by the additives?
  • Explore all the uses of 12-volt systems and batteries in your area, particularly in fishing boats. How do lead acid batteries work (be careful-acid is dangerous!) What is the average battery size used in boats, 90-amp hour? 115? 200?
  • Survey the types of diesel engines used in local fishing boats. What is the science involved in diesel engines? Why are there no spark plugs?
  • What is the difference in operation between the newer 4-stroke outboards and the typical 2-stroke? Get beyond gas consumption.
  • Compare the patterns and paddles on snowmachine tracks in your area. Are there similarities? Does one pattern give better traction than another? What materials are the tracks made of? Are they the same material as the drive belts?
  • Why is one snowmachine better at breaking trail than another?
  • 30% of a snowmachine's power comes from muffler design. What is going on?


  • Why do waves form on the ocean? What is the relationship between waves, wind, and current?
  • Why do waves form on some bends of the river and not on others? Is there a relationship between the direction of the wind and the direction of the current? Why are the waves smaller next to the bank?
  • How much more efficient is a new prop on an outboard? With a worn prop but the same driver, boat and load, time a trip from point A to point B. Put a new prop on the motor, and time the same trip. Does the new prop make a difference? If so, how much?
  • Every sandbar in a river has material that is classified according to its specific gravity. Identify the specific gravity on all locations on a sandbar and explain flood gold.
  • Can floods be predicted? What are the variables involved in flooding during spring breakup? How can they be measured? Are there ways to avoid the floods by engineering or planning?
  • Boats seem to travel faster after the sun goes down. This might be a trick of our eyes, but it might have something to do with other factors. Experiment to see if our eyes are playing tricks or whether there are other variables working to make the motor go faster. Use a GPS.
  • There is a difference between a substance dissolving in a liquid (solution), like sugar in coffee, and a substance being held in suspension, like silt in a river. Explore this difference. Where on the river does the silt tend to settle out and where is it picked up? Pour the solution and suspension through a coffee filter. Which is changed?
  • Scientists say the length of a river never changes. If it cuts short one place, it will get longer somewhere else? Is this so?
  • Why are some side streams orange in color? Is that the result of organic growth, or the result of iron deposits that were laid down geologically?


  • It is much harder and slower to walk on the tundra than it is on a boardwalk. Why is this so? The same effect seems to be occurring when we walk on a soft winter trail. Is this so?
  • Why does pressure cooking and jarring preserve food? Are there optimum conditions and materials to use in preserving foods for winter storage?
  • Lacking candy, oldtimers used to make cooked sugar. How did they do this? What happens to the sugar that it changes form?
  • Which boils at the highest temperatures: seal oil, vegetable oil, shortening, moose, or caribou tallow, olive oil, or other cooking oils? In making fry bread, which oils make the best bread: less greasy, good texture, color, and flavor? (Seal oil seems to be the only animal fat that is liquid at room temperature. Is this true?)
  • What is the best way to ferment seal oil?
  • How much good/bad cholesterol does seal oil have? How could you test this?  


  • How was sinew made traditionally? How was it woven? How was it preserved? From what part of the animal did it come? What was used before bees wax?
  • What animal parts were traditionally used for containers? Why were they good for those purposes?
  • Traditional clothing often had fringes on the sleeves, shoulders and bottom. Was this for appearance or functional?
  • Across Alaska, Native people used a tea that goes by many names: Labrador tea, Hudson Bay tea, Eskimo tea, etc. Prepare this tea. Do a taste test comparing this tea with commercial teas. Blend this tea with commercial tea. Which do people prefer? Elders? Middle age? Young people?
  • How was cedar bark harvested, prepared and utilized in traditional culture? How does cedar bark compare with modern materials for this same purpose?
  • What are the best natural dyes in your area? What are the traditional dyes? (Some might have been trade items.) Can these dyes withstand modern detergents in washing?
  • What are the different methods of preparing grass for weaving baskets?
  • What are the different traditional uses for grass?
  • What is the difference between a decoction and a tincture in preparing local plants for medicinal use?
  • How were medicinal plants stored for use?
  • How were drums made in traditional culture? How were the frames made? How were the skins prepared? How were the skins attached to the frames? How are these processes different among the Alaska Native cultures? How are these processes different from the ones we use today?
  • What are the traditional methods in your area used for steaming such items as drum frames or bentwood hats?
  • What are the rhythms used in traditional songs? Can you write the percussion music for them? Were there different rhythms for different songs, informational songs, spiritual songs, love songs, etc.?
  • What are some traditional knots? What were they used for? Why were the knots good for those materials?
  • There are three parts to traditional tanning: (1) softening by breaking down the fibers, (2) Scraping off different layers of skin, and (3) removing some of the skin material by soaking in an acid. Explore all three parts. Can you find a more modern way to do each now that we have electricity and different materials available?
  • What ocean currents bring driftwood to local beaches? How are these ocean currents formed? Are they the same all year long, or just seasonally?
  • What were the traditional insect repellents?
  • What plants in your area are poison and need to be avoided?
  • Oldtimers knew how to work metals. Compare an ulu made of copper with one made of steel. Cut many fish with each. Sharpen each. Can you learn how to temper or soften steel? How did oldtimers cut steel without electric tools?
  • How are different knives and tools sharpened for different applications?
  • What are the traditional uses for knots? What materials were typically used for lashing? What are the advantages and disadvantages of those traditional materials?
  • Apart from food, animal parts were traditionally used for many applications. Pick an animal in your area and find all the uses for the different parts. Make some of these traditional items. (Bones, hoofs, flippers, sacks, clothing, etc.)
  • What is the difference between modern shoe packs and vapor barrier boots vs. traditional footwear? Consider different seasons.
  • How were deadfall traps made in your area? What seasons were they set? Why?
  • Does the tide rise and fall at a steady rate, or does it follow cycles? Measure the height of the tide for one complete tide cycle to find out. Try this at extreme tides and mild tides. Call the distance the tide rises or falls in one hour "one unit." Describe the rest of the changes in terms of that unit. Is there a pattern? There should be.
  • The construction of an ocean kayak is very personal. The shape of the kayak is according to the shape of the person, using body parts for measurement. Can you discover these measurements and determine why the stability and maneuverability of a kayak is related to these body part measurements?
  • Splitting driftwood and other trees is a skill and science known to only a few people. Can you rediscover this art/science and demonstrate it, describing the process in terms of stress?
  • Drying lumber shrinks. What percentage of shrinkage in length and width does lumber in your area experience between the time the tree is cut and the time it is dry enough to use for a finished surface?
  • How does radar work in fishing boats? What materials reflect radar waves the best? Least? How did people navigate before radar?
  • What is the science involved in human survival in the open ocean after a fishing vessel has sunk?
  • What is the science involved in building an emergency fire shelter?
  • What materials are best for firestarting in your area? Compare these with commercial firestarting materials. Compare all materials dry and wet (spruce gum, birch bark, dry shavings, dry grass, etc.) You might want to have a panel of 4-5 judges while you do the tests.
  • How can you tell the speed in miles per hour of a local stream, river, or ocean current? If a water generator can generate one amp per mile/per hour, how many amps could this current generate?
  • Why do salmon prefer certain streams over others? Can something be said for the bottom of the stream? What frightens salmon in shallow water? Can you sneak closely without being detected?
  • What is the difference between a seine net and a gill net? What is the advantage of each?
  • How could it be that blackfish "come alive" after being solid frozen? What amazing features do they have that allow this? How and why do they make holes in the ice during winter?
  • What is a red tide? Why does it effect bivalves? Why do they become deadly poison after a red tide? Some people say you can eat bivalves in all the months that contain an "r." If this is true, why is it so? How many months does it take for bivalves to be cleansed from the effects of a red tide?
  • Some people say that cedar shavings work well to repel spiders from tents and homes. If this is so, which works better, red or yellow cedar?
  • What is hypothermia? How can we prevent it? Can one part of our body experience hypothermia while the other parts are still functioning?
  • Why does smoke follow you around the campfire?
  • Over a campfire, put a new coffee pot next to one that is already blackened. Does the water boil slower or faster in the new pot? Why is this so?
  • It is difficult to melt snow in a coffee pot over a campfire. However, if there is a little water in the bottom of the pot, the snow melts easily. Why is this?
  • How can you tell time by the big dipper during the winter nights?
  • What are the names of the constellations as identified by the Elders in your location? How are the constellations similar/different from those of Western culture?
  • Oldtimers had a simple loop and stick arrangement for hooking sled dogs to a towline. We now use metal snaps. Can you discover their method? It must be able to attach easily, stay attached under all conditions, and be disconnected without great trouble. However, it doesn't swivel.
  • Which are the strongest Alaska woods?
  • Boards cut from local Alaska lumber shrink considerable when they dry. Cut boards of different types of lumber in your area. What percentage of width and length do they shrink when they dry? How does this relate to board-and-batten siding?
  • What kinds of local Alaska woods rot the easiest? What kinds resist rotting? What are favorable conditions for wood to rot? What are the applications of this knowledge in making traditional artifacts (sleds, boat ribs, housing, and building foundations?) The woods that are originally the strongest might not be as strong after a year or two.
  • What is permafrost? What happens to permafrost when the tundra is removed? What kinds of foundations are in your village and how do they relate to your findings? Which houses need more frequent leveling? What is the best foundation for a house built upon permafrost?
  • Oldtimers say that the little birds fly up to the cranes and hide in a hollow place under the cranes' wings as the cranes circle the tundra in the fall. The cranes carry the little birds to the Lower 48 and back again in the spring. To my knowledge, this has never been researched. It would be fascinating to see to what extent this is true. We do know that the cranes and small birds depart and arrive at the same time each year.
  • What kinds of native Alaska woods or common driftwoods rot the easiest? Which ones resist rotting? What are the favorable conditions for rotting? How can you apply this knowledge to the making of traditional artifacts?

Finding and Developing a Science Fair Project

Examples of "Observe and Think" Projects

200+ Ideas for Science Fairs!

Traditional Lighting


Traditional Firemaking


Fishing with Lures

Rabbit Snares

Spearing Fish and the Refraction of Light

Chill of the Campfire

Solution vs Suspension

Seals & Beaver, Floating & Sinking


Selecting a Birch Tree

Spruce & Other Roots

Spruce Gum

Spear Throwing

Berry Pickers

Drum Frames


Book Cover

© 2004 Alaska Native Knowledge Network. All rights reserved.

A partner with the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0086194. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Camps as an Environment for Science & Culture

Culturally Relevant Science Fairs



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Last modified April 12, 2011