Seventh Grader Takes Home the Winning Prize at Science Fair With Minitab

Each year, The Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science (PJAS) sponsors a state wide science fair for high school students.  This year's winner was seventh grader, Jonathan Riska from Macungie, Pa.

Riska used Statistical Software Minitab to help him analyze energy data for his award winning PJAS science fair project.

Riska's interest in sustainable energy, along with his love for cars and engines, prompted him to use his science project to compare the amount of energy contained in different vegetable oils to that in petroleum diesel fuel.

"I wanted to confirm whether vegetable oils can be considered reasonable replacements for petroleum diesel," he says. To test safflower, peanut, corn, olive, and coconut oils, Riska built a simple calorimeter, which measures the energy per gram in each fuel by determining how much of it must be burned to raise the temperature of water.

For all of the different fuels, Riska filled a burner and recorded its initial mass. He then lit the fuel and began recording the water temperature.

When it rose to about 80 degrees C, he extinguished the burner and reweighed the sample. Together, these measurements gave Riska the information to calculate the amount of energy per gram in each fuel.  

But this curious young mind took it a step further. He also tested petroleum diesel, methanol, and ndodecane, which all have known energy contents. He then used these measurements to calibrate his simple calorimeter, making his data more accurate.

He then analyzed the data using the Minitab Statistical Software his dad uses at

Within forty minutes Riska said he making his first graphsin Minitab. "I was able t o produce cool plots of my data that really made the results clear."

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