STEM In Action – Science Fair Amazement

I had the honor of being a judge for the Bucks County Science Research Competition (i.e. Science Fair) at Delaware Valley University yesterday. This is a competition for students in grades 6-12 who submit research projects in STEM related fields such as math, physics, engineering, chemistry…just to name a few. This was my first time volunteering as a judge, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what I found reinforced my belief that students can do amazing things if given the chance.

There were hundreds of displays, where students laid out details of their research projects on 3-paneled poster boards, including images, their research paper, their hypothesis, pictures, graphs, data and some even including the devices they created or used. I was assigned to the Engineering judging team, so my focus was the 22 Engineering projects, which we spent 3 hours reading/reviewing, and then 2 hours interviewing the students themselves. Let me tell you – if these 22 students are examples of future engineers, the world is in good hands! It was very hard to ‘judge’ and the ultimate goal as a judge was to get the students to talk about what they did and why, and provide them with suggestions and questions that make them want to continue their research and explorations. I would say the most impressive part of the day was the interview time we had with each of the students, where they gave us their ‘elevator’ talk about the why, the what and the how of their research. These students were articulate, passionate, and most impressively, able to explain the math, the science, the technology, and the engineering behind their creations and findings.

There were too many impressive projects to be able to list them all, but I will describe a few standouts.

  • One sixth grade girl created a robotic hand that she programmed as well as a ‘human-like’ hand out of gel and straws/string (that she notched joints in so she could move the fingers) and compared the force of the finger compression.
  • A seventh grade girl compared the prepackaged program of a drone to her own programming of a drone to show her commands were more efficient and smooth.
  • An eighth grade boy developed a laser beam cane for the blind to help them ‘hear’ objects in their path.
  • An eighth grade girl, trying to solve the fresh water problem in 3rd-world countries, tested 3 natural  ways to filter water to help provide an affordable way for these countries to use their own resources to filter the water.
  • A junior in high school is in the middle of a 3-year project to design a 1-rotating platform 3D printer that he hopes will be a more efficient 3D printer than those currently out there. And he printed the parts of his new printer from the 3D printer he already made a couple years ago…..(of course?!)
  • A senior girl was using 3D printing to develop prosthetic for lower legs and ankles.
  • Another senior girl created her own biodegradable implants for meniscus tears that she believes would be stronger and more durable than current implants.
  • There was a senior boy who was building a water desalinization machine that uses de-ionization to get the salt out of the water and would be, if he is successful, a cheaper alternative for 3rd-world countries than current machinery
  • Then there was the seventh grade girl, spurred on by her parents and siblings diabetes, who built an artificial pancreas.
  • And finally, the middle school boy who tried to show that ground solar panels were more efficient than roof solar panels, and if nothing else, proved to his parents that their decision to invest in solar panels was a good one.

I was blown away by the creativity, the interest, the dedication, and the knowledge these students demonstrated both in their displays, but more importantly in the communicating of their ideas and hopes for future research. A big part of the science fairs is to encourage these students to keep exploring, to keep asking questions, and to continue to pursue these STEM related interests into the future, and hopefully into future STEM-related careers. It was so encouraging to see the number of girls at this event as well.  I left the day inspired and hopeful about the future – these students are already thinking and exploring ways they can improve it and if their projects were any indication, they are well on their way to doing so.