Brag time. We just got home from the big Calgary science fair competition. My 13-year-old won three awards. Here’s the kicker: his project was called Saving Honey with Sound. His experiment was based on sending ultrasonic energy waves into combs of granulated honey, attempting to liquefy the honey without using heat and without melting the wax comb.
His awards included a gold metal for creating a great original experiment, an award from a home economics group, plus the Consumers Economics Prize from the Haskayne School of Business. Also, the University of Calgary presented him the Hunter Centre Secondary (ie., high school) Consumer Science Award. Being recognized meant competing with 902 other students, all of them there by invitation because they had placed well at their local school events. Across Canada, over half a million kids participated in this year’s science fairs. That’s the same number that participated in hockey this year. So it’s a big deal.
My son wanted to help beekeepers who face trouble when honey begins to crystallize in the comb. For experts, he talked to some Alberta beekeepers and he interviewed a major honey packer. For background, he studied physics books. For coaching, he relied on his mom, who is a physician, not a keeper of bees, and who is a skilled public speaker. I stayed entirely out of his project. This was our son’s experiment – he spent about 60 hours in the basement working on it and we are happy that he put such effort into the science. For example, he learned that it’s largely the glucose/fructose ratio in honey that causes granulation. This varies flower-to-flower, which is why some honeys crystallize more quickly than others. He explored heat-induced honey damage and investigated cheap ways to generate high frequency sound waves. He also learned about resonant frequencies and how they can cause molecular vibration which in turn can phase-change solids to liquids.
Here is what I learned from him. The idea of using ultrasound to reverse granulation works, at least as part of a small-scale experiment. It may even have commercial application, but my son is not totally convinced. He used speakers which emitted 18,000 hertz sound waves at just over 100 decibels. (By the way, at such a high frequency, the sound is inaudible to humans. There is no risk of hearing damage – we asked an auditory physician before we allowed the boy to start.) After seven days, there was some liquefying. He told me that if he had bigger speakers and if he had an amplifier that could generate a higher frequency, the results would have been more spectacular. That’s what he thinks would be required in a honey operation if a beekeeper wants to extract any combs which are crystallized.
You can see the benefits. If the idea actually can scale up, hot rooms might be replaced with sound rooms. Honey sold in the comb could be restored. The science fair judges recognized this, hence the economics award for an experiment that combined the physics of sound and the chemistry of honey.