Pharyngula

Seed supports Science Fairs

Seed is doing a Good Thing and hosting a site and forum for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (when I was growing up, this was better known as the Westinghouse science fair, and it is very prestigious). Some of the projects that come out of that science fair are just plain intimidating—teachers and students might want to browse the fair for ideas, but don’t be discouraged if some of them are a little overwhelming. It probably helps maintain your perspective to notice that Seed has sponsored an amusing gimmick, too, the world’s largest baking soda and vinegar volcano. (I don’t care how big it is, though, it’s not going to win.)

Comments

  1. Seed needs to get with the program. Baking soda volcanoes are old and busted. Not even the little kids find them amusing.

    The new hotness is Mentos and Diet Coke!

  2. #2 Bronze Dog
    May 14, 2007

    Something that was annoying: My schools didn’t have science fairs. The only ‘science fair’ I was involved in required that everyone in my 5th grade class make baking soda and vinegar volcanoes.

  3. #3 dorid
    May 14, 2007

    I’ve noticed school science fairs getting more cut-throat and seeing more and more parent interference. If they want to have parent science fairs, fine and dandy, but some of these kids can’t even hand in a legible or coherent test paper and their science fair projects look like they’re done by a pro. Now I DO like that some of the science fairs I’ve been to require more rigerous standards for presentation than they did when I was a kid. I think this gets the kids ready for the kind of posters they’ll be presenting in college.

    I also find schools tend to be bias toward certain types of projects… in FL there was a lot of bias toward marine themed projects, and I’ve found if a company is co-sponsoring with the school that winners tend to be those whose experiments relate to the company products.

    I’ve seen some pretty lame stuff win… Like the year my daughter was measuring acid rain in various locations around Buffalo, New York and checking for correlation with distance to industrial plants… and the winner from her school compared the average number of unpopped kernels from various popular microwave pop corns.

  4. #4 Shaggy Maniac
    May 14, 2007

    Active dry yeast and hydrogen peroxide works, too. Glycerol and potassium permanganate works really well, if a bit dangerously, if you can get it.

  5. Replying to myself, but …

    The new hotness is Mentos and Diet Coke!

    Come to think of it – for volcano applications, using Cheerwine instead of Diet Coke might be more appropriate.

  6. #6 Mena
    May 14, 2007

    Eh, who cares if it wins or not. The kids in the pictures seem to be having fun and that’s all that matters, isn’t it? Gotta keep them interested in science for the long run, not just until they get out of school.

  7. #7 JBL
    May 14, 2007

    Actually, I think the Intel Science Talent Search (a different contest) is what used to be known as the Westinghouse, and that ISEF is a completely distinct entity (albeit also sponsored by Intel).

  8. #8 Coragyps
    May 14, 2007

    Pah! Ammonium dichromate volcanos ignited with permanganate + glycerine are the only True Science Fair Volcano(TM). (And likely verboten for their carcinogenic chromium +6 content, too. Sad.)

  9. #9 j
    May 14, 2007

    dorid, are you familiar with Intel? This isn’t an ordinary school science fair.

  10. #10 Dave Eaton
    May 14, 2007

    One of my committee members from grad school judges the science talent competition. He would always come back sort of slack jawed at the caliber of work done there.

    Still, kids who can make plasmids and insert them in their poodle’s genome in their garage don’t need science fairs so much (not to denigrate them or their accomplishments. They are awesome, and they will likely make a big splash in whatever they do.) It is great for them to have a place to shine, but I’m betting this isn’t really much of a factor for the upper echelon’s choice of career.

    The kid I want to reach is the one that is bright, capable, but not familiar with or impressed by science. One at an early fork in the road, where they begin to decide whether or not to develop the habits of mind that will lead them to science.

    Will science fairs provide this? Seldom, but seldom is still infinitely more often than never, which is where we are without science fairs.

  11. #11 dorid
    May 15, 2007

    No, I’m not familiar with THIS science fair, but have in the past noticed that you have to win at school levels to be considered for bigger fairs. I’m not sure what Intel’s selection process is… YET. I think I’ll wander down there on Thursday and take a look-see.

  12. #12 Andy
    May 15, 2007

    I was one of those “plasmids in the garage” types of sci-fair students – which is to say I was a rarity. The cynical side of me (based on four years competing in ISEF during high school and now several years of judging regional science fairs as a Ph.D. student) says that many of the “showy” projects result from kids who are lucky enough to live within a few miles of a research university. I am _far_ more impressed with the “by the bootstraps” sorts of projects.

    I saw one such example at the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair last year – a student contacted a bunch of zoos, got permission to film behavior of a variety of cat species, and then did a really nifty little study on interactions between enclosure type and pacing behavior. This student impressed me, not because it was necessarily the best or fanciest project (there were others that eeked him out in the awards, if I recall), but because he had work ethic, creativity, and good scientific sense. At the South Central South Dakota Science and Engineering Fair, I met two young women who put together a project on the effects of some components of grass smoke on various native and non-native grasses and crops. Again, no major research lab behind them – just a little initiative, creativity, and a pretty strong grasp of the literature. They did most of the work at home, IIRC. They’re competing at the ISEF right now – I wish them all the best!

    For me, science fair *was* a major part of getting on the road to a career in science. In fact, I first “met” my Ph.D. advisor when I called her up for some reprints (good thing I wasn’t that shy!). But to be honest, I think I got a maximum amount of reward out of the whole SF experience because I put a *lot* of my own effort into it.

  13. #13 dorid
    May 16, 2007

    The effort and the excitement about SCIENCE is what I like to see. I also like to see some innitiative. I’ve seen too many kids doing research with daddy’s company not to wonder how much of it is the kid and how much is daddy or his pals.

    Tomorrow is the public opening of the science fair and I’ll be wandering down there with my notebook and camera. I admit it’s been a few years since I’ve been to a science fair, and QUITE a few years since I’ve been to a MAJOR fair. I can’t wait to see what the kids come up with.