Science fair experiments have turned my dining room into a mad scientist lab cluttered with my children’s papers, glue sticks, buzzers, tape, rotten apple slices and some gooey gelatin residue.

During science fair week, hundreds of students are putting their hypotheses to the test with experiments.

When it’s all over, we parents are just happy to have our tables, refrigerators, printers and homes back. I gave up an entire shelf of my refrigerator to accommodate a platter of rotting apples and 10 small batches of gelatin.

My 13-year-old daughter wanted to figure out which additives — dried milk or salt vs. no additional ingredients — would cause her gelatin to harden the most. My 9 year-old daughter, who loves apples, wanted to find out which type of food wrapper could keep apples freshest the longest.

My son, who is 11 and loves electronics, tinkered with lightbulbs, buzzers, electrical tape and wiring to create an electrical circuit.

Bottom line, they all had fun finding answers based on their own scientific experiments.

Though their results were not earth shattering, they created graphs, data and evidence to back up their work for science fair judges.

Conducting such simple experiments helped Baton Rouge Magnet High freshman Anusha Zaman become the science sleuth she is today. Anusha placed as a top 30 finalist in the science and engineering category for the Broadcom Masters Final Competition in California, where she was Louisiana’s only representative. She also placed second in the technology category of the national competition.

Anusha investigated the effects of the betel nut, a project spurred by a visit to her Bangladesh homeland in 2011.

The nut, which is derived from the areca palm, is used by almost a tenth of the world’s population. Her research focused on the betel quid and gutkha, which is tobacco that’s mixed with the betel.

Betel quid and tobacco are associated with tooth decay, oral deformities and oral cancer. In addition, chewing tobacco contains tiny shards of glass that cuts cheek cells. It causes red or white lesions that can lead to tumors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Anusha’s research also detailed the toxic effects of the nut on the body.

Her curiosity left her shocked at the numbers of people consuming and suffering from the effects of betel quid use.

“I wondered how so many could be oblivious to something that was literally under their noses,” she said.

She hopes her work “will inspire others to study the betel quid in far more detail than the few studies up to date … And perhaps one day, this practice can be abolished.”

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at