When Justin Larsen’s invention whirled to life, people at the Sandy Andy Science Fair took notice and rightfully so. It was cool.

Larsen, a seventh-grader at Peru Elementary School, had a jerry-built contraption from a leaf blower, a shower curtain and a round piece of plywood. The result: an operational hovercraft that to the delight of science fair attendees, lifted them off the ground and gave them a little airtime.

“I like the idea that you are floating on top of the floor,” said Larsen enthusiastically. “It’s loud, but my classmates liked it because we could ride it around the room. I actually made this,” he said, gesturing as his friend floated back down to earth. “I can’t believe I did that, and it still works.” In fact, it worked so well that it actually boosted his 250-pound science teacher inches from the ground.

Larsen was one of more than 80 sixth- through eighth-grade scientists from seven area schools including: Peru, Livermore Falls, Jay, Telstar in Bethel, Mount Blue in Farmington, Mountain Valley in Rumford and Buckfield who proudly, and professionally, showed off the science projects on Thursday at the University of Maine at Farmington.

“I like to do hands-on projects. I don’t like to just sit in front of a computer and look at stuff online. It’s just so much more fun to build stuff,” Larsen said, adding that hanging out at the college for a day was “very cool. Our school is like a box compared to this place. It’s cool to come to the college because it’s so big. I like the snack bar.”

Across the way, eighth-graders Tyler Child, also from Peru Elementary, and Jamison Turner from Jay Middle School, were content to just push a button and let their inventions prove themselves.

Child showed off his clever remote control curtain opener and closer, and Turner drove his remote control footstool, mounted on a battery-operated mini-monster truck, into the sneakered feet of other young contestants.

The boys stressed they weren’t lazy, except on the weekends, just practical. Both said the elderly could use their inventions and Child admitted he actually uses his invention in his own bedroom, picking up the remote control in the morning to open the curtains and let the light in.

But the science fair wasn’t just about having fun and floating, students were judged by a panel of judges, comprised of UMF students, who were told to look at the projects critically based on their scientific merit and methodology, but also to remember that the students presenting were just middle schoolers, and not nuclear physicists.

Judge Miles Levy, a UMF junior, said he was impressed and having a blast. “I thought the kids were well-involved with what they were doing. Their enthusiasm and high energy was surprising. Their projects were original, well-thought out and you could tell the kids really worked hard at developing their ideas. My science fair wasn’t like this.”

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