NEW YORK—Internet giant Google launched its inaugural Science Fair at its offices on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan on Tuesday. The fair is open to students 13-18 years old. Google held the fair in partnership with Scientific American, National Geographic, LEGO, and CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the world’s leading laboratory for particle physics.
In recent months, some children have been showing adults that they too can have an impact on the world of science. In December, a class of children in the U.K., aged 8-10 years old, made novel discoveries about how bees perceive shapes and colors. Their work was published in a scientific peer-reviewed journal. Earlier this month, 10-year-old Kathryn Aurora Gray of New Brunswick, Canada, was the youngest person to discover a supernova.
Mariette DiChristina, editor-in-chief of Scientific American, cited these examples of probing young minds at the kickoff of the fair. The fair is open to children around the world and is accepting submissions until April 4, 2011. Submissions are accepted online via Google accounts, in either a short video or a slide presentation giving an overview of the project. Semi-finalists will be announced in May, when 60 projects will be posted online, 15 of those will be selected as finalists later in May. Prizes include a trip to the Galapagos and $110,000 in scholarships.
“We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff no one has ever done before,” wrote the British youth in the bee report. New York public school students attended the opening of the fair, where they heard inspiring stories of young scientists and encouraging advice from the star panel of judges that includes DiChristina, Peter Norvig, Google’s Director of Research and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Spencer Wells.
John Yeh of Livingston, N. J., is an engineer and coach of Landroids, a youth robotic team. The Google Science Fair is just one stop on the agenda of competitions the team is participating in. They recently won the MoonBots Lego competition.
The coach’s son, Karlin, has been part of the team for four years. “One of the lessons my dad has always taught me is that if something breaks, you don’t go out and buy it, you try to fix it yourself,” said Karlin. He even had to make the tank for his pet fish. He enjoys his robotics work because it combines knowledge from different scientific fields. The ninth-grader relates the sensory functions of the robot to biology. He sees a similarity to chemistry in the way every element affects another in a robot, and the movement of each part creates a reaction in another part—”and you can see it in a robot,” said Karlin.
Google vice president and one of the pioneers of the Internet, Vint Cerf, also one of the judges, says he got his start in an enhanced science and technology program in junior high. Such programs were being funded in light of the space race with Russia. His main message to the young scientists of the future was,
“You should be prepared to fight for your ideas.”
Cerf pointed out that the great minds of the past were not limited by the conventional theories of their times. People will reject what does not fit in with what they already know, says Cerf, but for science to continue its development, scientists must have courage to be unconventional.
“Now we know that even [quantum physics] is not enough—there are anomalies. … Ninety-five percent of the universe we live in is essentially unknown to us. It’s all a tabula rasa,” said Cerf. He laid before the children an unexplored universe of possibilities for new discovery.
Another prestigious judge is Spencer Wells, a geneticist and explorer-in-residence for National Geographic. His view of exploration concurred with Cerf’s. He says exploration is not a bygone profession, even if the gaps on the world’s map have long been filled in.
“Science is in the process of being redefined,” said Wells.