Wednesday, February 7, 2007

2007 Science Fair

What are grade 6-8 science students researching these days? I visited the annual Science Fair at my son Jeevan's school to find out. I was quite impressed. There were several themes
  • effect of soft drinks on teeth and with caffeine
  • batteries powered by lemons
  • strength of bridges
  • effect of video games
  • safety and taste of food
  • the environment

There was evidence of parental help. One honest soul thanked mom for typing, dad for graphing and grandma for the computer. As you might have guessed, there were many photos and most of the words were computer-generated. Remember when printing meant putting a pencil/pen/marker in your hand and touching the paper?

Here are some unexpected findings

  • larger parachutes work better
  • bleach cleans better than water
  • more expensive popcorn pops better

So if you manufacture popcorn, don't worry about moisture content. Instead, increase your prices to improve your product and profits :)

Presentation Quality

Most presentations were hard to read. Too many words in tiny fonts. What works well in a written report doesn't capture the imagination on bristol board. Far-too-often, adults use PowerPoint to create presentations that are complex, lengthy and unmemorable.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." --- Albert Einstein

But simplification takes more time and more thinking.

Flashback to Grade 3

I entered my first science fair in Grade 3 with a car I made out of Meccano. That's all I had. No display. Not a single written word. Just a car. Most visitors walked by me bemused. One adult asked me how the car moved. You push it, I said. I let him try. I got a certificate for attending.

The next year, I collaborated with my friend Jeff. Our topic was Mars. The highlight was a model of the planet and its moons, Phobos and Deimos: several not-to-scale balls hanging in cardboard box painted black. We got got Honourable Mentions. And a complaint from cute classmate Christine because we made her sister cry. Not intentionally, mind you. Her sister also did a project on Mars but it wasn't as good because she worked alone and was in grade 2.

My last science fair was in Grade 13. I still have the Fourier Series Synthesizer I built, but no oscilliscope to test that it still works. Computers have made it obsolete. Fourier's theory was that any wave was composed of sine waves at different frequencies and amplitudes. To learn more, visit the Wikipedia and shudder.

It's great to see young minds at work.

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