Ah, science fairs.
To the left, observe my colleague, fellow Seed-ster Lee Billings, feeling the science fair glow at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Intel ISEF is the world’s largest and most acclaimed gathering of pre-college-age scientists. Held each May, the fair brings together 1,500 students from over 40 nations to present their research, meet one another, and compete for prizes including a $50,000 college scholarship. As PZ Myers notes at Pharyngula, “when I was growing up, this was better known as the Westinghouse science fair, and it is very prestigious;” he adds that some of the ISEF projects are so impressive they’re “just plain intimidating.”
This week, the Albuquerque Convention Center serves as a veritable Olympic Village of young scientists. Lee and Seed video producer Jacob Klein are there, on the ground, meeting participants and bringing the sights, sounds, and personalities of the fair to a special live-blog on the ScienceBlogs platform.
Seed is also introducing an online discussion forum to help ISEF participants and alumni keep in touch with one another.
I encourage you to take a look at the ISEF blog and share in the excitement of a group of exceptional young people and in the alternately-fun-and-nerve-wracking custom that is the science fair.
I also invite you to use this comment thread to share your own science-fair stories. I’ll get the ball rolling with one of mine, after the jump.
I was in eighth grade. I won the school science fair and was selected to go on to county and from there to a yearly statewide event called the Virginia Junior Academy of Sciences, along with a handful of other kids from my school. They bused us down to Richmond where we stayed in college dorms with other students from other schools around the state. We felt like celebrities. My experiment involved testing various kinds of fabrics (I had wool, Gore-Tex, Lycra, cotton, polyester, nylon, and maybe silk. Or maybe I’d decided silk was too expensive) for different metrics of performance, like warmth, stretchiness, and water repellence. The test I remember best measured a fabric’s insulating properties. I baked a bunch of potatoes, probed them with thermometers until they reached an internal temperature of 350 degrees, then swaddled them in fabric samples and timed how long it took for them to lose a certain amount of heat. The “potato test” charmed the judges, I made it through my speech with its transparencies and computer-generated graphs without blacking out from nerves (heck, I think I even had fun once I got into it), and though I didn’t advance to the next level, I still have good memories of the trip, the competition, and yes, the eighth-grade mixer afterwards.
But I don’t remember science-fair flair like these buttons that Lee and Jacob are finding at ISEF. Did you have things like this? Do you have any other science-fair memories to share?