Wichita student’s science idea wins him a chance to test it – at an Oregon zoo

07/02/2012 5:00 AM

07/02/2012 6:43 PM

Mason Ganoung had no idea that entering a science contest would end with him working with scientists at the Oregon zoo on an experiment he designed.

Ganoung, who just finished the sixth grade at Wilbur Middle School in west Wichita, won one of three grand prizes in the fourth annual Kids’ Science Challenge. His prize included a trip to Oregon last month with his father, Doug.

“He’s always had a mind for science,” Doug Ganoung said of his son. “He likes science, animals and camping, that outdoor stuff.”

There was a winner for each of the three categories: Zero Waste, Animal Smarts and Meals on Mars. Mason’s idea for the Animal Smarts category was a birdfeeder that requires two birds to work together to get the food.

“It was a simple and unique idea,” Mason said, explaining why he thought his idea was chosen from among more than 1,400 entries.

Mason, 12, was given the opportunity to test his experiment at the Oregon Zoo in Portland with zoo intern Kyle Tidwell. Mason also toured the zoo with deputy conservation manager David Shepherdson and learned about the research that goes on behind the scenes at the zoo.

“My favorite part of the trip was when my idea worked because I didn’t think it was actually going to work,” Mason said. “I was pretty excited.”

Mason and Tidwell first tested Tidwell’s interpretation of Mason’s design. After watching the lorikeet birds for several hours, the cameras caught the birds cooperating to get food.

The next day Mason worked with Tidwell to create a birdfeeder of his own design. One bird would have to stand on an activation spot while another would retrieve the food. The experiment worked.

Mason said it is important for kids his age to be interested in science.

“It gets you thinking,” he said. “You don’t know until you try an experiment if it’ll work or if it won’t, so it’s like a mystery.”

Mason’s science teacher David Clark entered all of his students in the contest and won a prize for having the largest number of entries in the contest.

“I was pretty excited Mason won,” Clark said. “I have a great sense of pride and joy for Mason, Wilbur Middle School and USD 259. Winning this contest could be a real spark for Mason and open up some doors that may not have been there for him before.”

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