Introduction: (Initial Observation)
Caves are among the most fascinating places on the earth. Every year millions of cave lovers visit the caves and try to explore the hidden underground world of caves. Visiting a new cave is often an adventure and a memorable experience.
Caves can be found in the mountains, in the flat lands and even in the swamps.
Some caves are partially or completely under water. Visiting these caves requires special equipment ant training.
Human has lived in the caves for many years. Caves protected human from other animals and cold winters. This project is a research on natural caves, not tunnels and mines. It is recommended for students that can have a supervised visit to a cave.
Start your cave project by collecting information about the caves in your area. Many caves in US are a part of national parks. You can easily find the information about the tours, hours and fees online. I recommend to search the internet for keywords “Cave Park”. You will find thousand of pages about caves in parks. You may even find many information and pictures that are helpful for your project.
If you would like to focus your research on cave animals, search the net for “Cave Animals” to find some information. I suggest t have some plastic bags with you to keep samples of small animals that you may collect for your further study and display.
Such collection is one step toward learning about cave life.
Many good sources of information about caves are available on-line.
You may want to search for plants in caves. Certain species of ferns and mosses prefer or, in some cases, require a limestone substrate on which to grow. Other fern species have adapted to growing in the cool, moist twilight conditions of cave entrances.
Ferns are flowerless, seedless vascular plants having roots, stems, and fronds and reproducing by spores.
You can also search the Internet for “Cave Plants”.
Caves are good source of minerals such as limestone some caves have lots of interesting stalagmite and stalactite that may be collected with proper tools.
What do you want to find out? Write a statement that describes what you want to do. Use your observations and questions to write the statement.
The purpose of this project is to investigate and report the life or minerals inside a cave.
Before you visit inside a cave, you may have some questions such as:
- Do plants grow inside a cave?
- Do animals live inside a cave?
- Does radio work inside a cave?
- What type of minerals are found in a cave?
- Can plants grow inside a cave?
Any of the above questions can be the question of your science project.
When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.
Caves are dark and moist environments. Darkness and moisture are two variables that can affect the minerals and life inside a cave. However we will not compare the caves animals, plants or minerals based on these variables. If any further experiments are required, darkness and moisture can be created in cave like models inside a lab. This project does not require any of these.
Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about what types of things affect the system you are working with. Identifying variables is necessary before you can make a hypothesis.
Depending on the question you choose for your project, you must have an educated guess or hypothesis as a possible answer to your question.
For example if your question is “Do animals live inside a cave?”, then as your hypothesis you may write:
Animals do not live in the cave. My hypothesis is based on the fact that caves are dark.
Write down your hypothesis and compare it with your final findings.
Design an experiment to test each hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to answer each question. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a “control.” A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral “reference point” for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a “controlled experiment.”
In order to make observations or perform experiments for this project, you will need to do some or all of the following steps:
- Collecting information about a local cave
- Making preparations for going inside the cave for investigation. Some caves are hard to climb, sleepers, with multiple chambers and divisions in different directions. Many people have lost and died in the caves around the world. A knowledgeable guide and accompanying adult is needed.
- Actual cave visit, taking pictures, collecting samples.
- Preparing reports and display.
In most cases the observation is enough for a cave project; however, if your question is about growing plants in caves, you may want to take a few small house plants and leave them in the cave for a week or two and see if the cave environment does affect the growth rate. You can then compare these plants with another identical plant that kept outside the cave.
Experiment: Make stalactite
Two of the common features you find in many caves are the presence of stalactites and stalagmites. When studying about caves, you may want to make samples of stalactites and stalagmites in order to see and show how they are formed. In this experiment we are going to make our own stalactite using Epsom salt; however, you could also do the same experiment with baking soda, table salt, borax or any other water soluble mineral.
- Two jars or cups
- Epsom salt*
- Natural fiber string (cotton or wool)
* You can use baking soda, washing soda, table salt or any other mineral instead of Epsom salt.
- Fill each jar with water.
- Pour Epsom salt into each jar and stir. Continue adding Epsom salt until a thick solution is created.
- Take a natural fiber string, cotton or wool yarn will work, and connect weights such as small rocks, paperclips or nuts on each end of the string.
- Soak the string in the Epsom salt solution.
- Place the two jars onto several sheets of newspaper. Place the jars about 6 inches apart. Set up your experiment somewhere where it can sit untouched for a few days.
- Place a small plate between the jars
- Place one end of the string into one jar and the other end of the string into the other jar. Let the string sag a little between the jars but don’t let it touch the ground.
- Check on your project everyday for the next few days to see what happens. Don’t touch anything, the stalactite is very delicate.
The string carried the solution from the jars to the low point of the string and dripped from there. The solution carried the Epsom salt with it. As the water evaporated out of the solution only the Epsom salt was left. As each drip occurred, it deposited a little more Epsom salt, causing a stalactite to form.
Materials and Equipment:
Some of material needed or recommended are:
- Safety hat
- Back pack to carry equipment
- Plastic bags for collecting samples
- Camera for taking pictures
- Notebook and pen for notes
Adult supervision and a tour guide is required for most cave visits.
Results of Experiment (Observation):
Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental “runs.” During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered “raw data” since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results.
Not needed for this project
Summery of Results:
Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.
It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.
Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.
Related Questions & Answers:
What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.
If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.
If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.
List of References