Molding Young Minds, One Poster at a Time

Recently, I helped judge at a science fair for Portola Highly Gifted Magnet Science Fair, where 7th and 8th graders conducted experiments based on their imagination (and in some cases help from their resourceful parents I’m sure). The projects ranged from the classic chromatography experiment (with quite a minimalistic board to match) to stimulation effects on action potentials in carnivorous plants; there was a small part of me that was sad/disappointed there were no volcanoes. This fair was organized much like the poster sessions one would see at scientific conferences today, so these students got a good taste of giving short presentations and explaining their research on a tight schedule. Students had 2-3 minutes to give a spiel on their project, then the rest of the time was left for me to ask questions and give feedback. Some of these kids were super adorable and had really well thought-out talks; one even had a clip-on tie on his t-shirt! There were so many colorful and informational posters, but I wanted to share a few of the projects that stood out to me so you can get an idea of the caliber of these kids’ creativity:

Some of the noteworthy posters

Which colored bird feeder would birds be attracted to the most?

I really liked this student’s project, because it was really evident that she had interest in the subject at hand. She explained that she was an avid bird watcher, and noticed a difference in the species and number of birds visiting over time. With the desire to attract some of the original birds back to her trees, she set up an experiment with different colored bird feeders and colored bowls as a feeder control. Her experimental setup was well thought out with respect to randomization and data collection, and I was really impressed with her overall enthusiasm about her project. This was refreshing, since even at conferences I’ve attended, I’ve seen grad students with a lack of genuine interest in their project. Though her experiment was relatively simple, it was novel and grounded in creative thinking.

Do violinists have longer left fingers?

Before I even heard from this student, I knew I was going to enjoy the study, since I played violin for just over 8 years when I was younger. This is a question I would’ve never thought to ask, but I was really excited to discuss the student’s findings with her. On average, she found that violinists’ left-hand fingers were 14mm longer than their right-hand fingers (what?!?), and that the left finger length was positively correlated with the playing level of the students measured! On top of that, the left pinky and ring fingers were the longest on average, which makes perfect sense since those ones have to stretch the farthest for higher notes (can you tell I’m nerding out about this one?). She was super shy about talking, but I still had a great time hearing about her study.

What type of Orange Juice contains the most vitamin C?

This 8th grader was such a pleasure to talk to! Not only did she find out which form among fresh-squeezed, carton, or frozen juice had the highest vitamin C content, she went back a week later to examine the vitamin degradation across the three juices. The best part—she bought a titration kit for her experiment! She was super confident in her project, and it showed with her presentation. Additionally, she was really talkative and curious to hear about my research too, which gave me a chance to practice explaining my research without any scientific jargon. Most of the time, we are surrounded by other scientists, and forget the importance of being able to communicate with non-scientists as well.

Overall, judging this fair was a really sweet experience, and got me really excited for the next generation of scientists. As found in a recent study, younger biomedical researchers were working on more inventive research topics than their fellow senior scientists. These youngsters are brighter than they think, and it is thrilling to think that many of them have the potential to make great scientific discoveries. Molding young minds starts young, and this science fair is the first step towards a rewarding future for these gifted students.

This entry was posted in Blog Posts, Featured, Uncategorized.
Bookmark the permalink.
Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>