Hilltop student wins first place at science fair for face mask experiment

MT LAUREL – The subject of Hilltop Montessori School seventh-grader Grayson Whitman’s project for his school’s science fair was not only relevant to the year 2020, but it also earned him first place.

Whitman’s project studied the effectiveness of different types of face coverings in combating the spread of COVID-19 through respiratory droplets.

“Given the conflicting information that has been shared about wearing a mask to reduce the spread of COVID, I decided to conduct an experiment to see if face masks worked at reducing respiratory droplets from being expelled into the environment,” Whitman said in a YouTube video about his project. “I’ve seen a number of different masks being worn in public, so I wondered if the materials face coverings are made from would make a difference.”

Whitman tested the effectiveness of a KN95 mask, a surgical mask, a multi-layer cotton mask, a bandanna and a gaiter.

During his experiment, Whitman said he held agar plates at arm’s length, read a 30-second script and sneezed while wearing each of the different face coverings and then wearing no face covering.

For the control, Whitman said he left one plate sitting in the open air for the same amount of time.

“I then put them in a homemade incubator and took pictures every 24 hours,” Whitman said. “This allowed me to see the bacteria growth on the agar plates.”

Whitman said the mask-less plate showed the most visible growth, followed by the gaiter with the second-most visible growth of all of the plates.

“Based on these images, I ended up with the conclusion that wearing any type of tested mask except the gaiter seems to block most droplets from escaping into the air,” Whitman said. “I also found a very clear difference between the gaiter and other masks with the gaiter providing much less protection than other masks tested. I also suspect that there’s a difference between the other masks, but that my experiment could not detect those.

“To boil down the results, masks do help reduce respiratory droplets from getting into the air, and based on my experiment, I recommend people wear masks when there is any risk of being exposed to COVID.”

Whitman was chosen to represent HMS at the UAB-CORD Science Fair in March, which is being held virtually this year.

To view Whitman’s HMS 2020 Science Fair video presentation, go to Youtu.be/fBgznm8jrWI.