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ddominick

6th Grade Sourdough Science Project

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Hello.  Does anyone have suggestions for a project my daughter and I could do for the science fair.  We have a very old sourdough starter and are interested in investigating the bacteria in it, how it works, etc.  Or any other ideas?  I have no idea where to start or what equipment we may need.  Thank you! 

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There are lots of simple and inexpensive "science fair"-level things you can do with a sourdough starter. For example, if you've got a camera (or camera phone) that you can set up to do timelapse, you could experiment with how different feeding ratios affect how quickly the starter rises, and how much. Or you could experiment with different ratios of water to flour, and/or different flours, always with that same simple metric. If you do all of the tests in one go you can get some nice photos and timelapse videos and you don't have to worry about temperature control affecting your results.

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In my experience (limited) with science fairs (though we got a trophy for "Snails of Torrance") it has to be fairly immediate in both concept and presentation - so perhaps keep that in mind. People's attention span especially today is quite short.

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Here in Italy there two main methods for keeping levain / sourdough starters. One is the "water method" (the levain rests submerged, or partially submerged, in water), the other is the "tied method" (the levain gets put in a towel and tied). Here is a video:

 

 

Maybe you could try using different strings / ropes to tie it and see which ones get broken (the levain exerts a sensible pressure and you need a strong rope) to get an idea of the rope strength you need and the pressure by the levain. Seeing the simple levain pulling a houdini can be really effective in impressing people.

 

 

 

Teo

 

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Posted (edited)

@ddominick, investigating the individual strains of bacteria and yeast in a sourdough culture is likely to require more microbiology than is usually accessible to the average 6th grader.   That said, there's a lot of great data available online from the Sourdough Project where the team collected starters from around the world and did just that - analyzed the microbial content of each.  You can click on their interactive map and see the percentages of different yeasts and bacteria in each one.   Here's a video with some updates on the project and some Q&A that might be interesting for your daughter. 

 

You've probably already checked this out, but if you search for "Sourdough Science Fair Projects" there are some good materials out there for grade-level appropriate measurements that your daughter could use to track the growth of your starter and maybe compare that with new starters that she makes with one or more types of flour.   This link will take you to a series of blog posts where a scientist (who's also in the video) from the lab working on the Sourdough Project uses some of those materials and takes a group of middle schoolers through the process of making their own starters, choosing the best ones and collaborating with a local bakery, conducts taste-tests on the resulting breads. 

 

I've judged quite a few state and county science fairs and my best advice would be to encourage your daughter to have fun with her project!

 

 


Edited by blue_dolphin to add link (log)
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