Is there anything left to discover?

I remember reading an article several years ago in Time magazine (Monday, Apr. 10, 2000) about a debate between Paul Hoffman, former editor of Discover magazine & past president of the Encyclopedia Britannica and John Horgan, author of a controversial book, The End of Science.

In the debate, Horgan tried to convince Hoffman that “…we’ve discovered all we can realistically expect to discover and that anything we come up with in the future will be pretty much small-bore stuff.” If you buy this line of thinking, then there is no reason to have any more science fairs!

Astrophysicist John Bahcall, who helped to prove what makes the sun shine, said it best, “The most important discoveries will provide answers to questions that we do not yet know how to ask and will concern objects we have not yet imagined.”

Let’s look at the evidence of some of the biggest scientific breakthroughs and discoveries over the past 16 years…since the Discover article was released:

  • The human genome project was completed
  • Two teams of scientists, one in Wisconsin the other in Japan, announced their discovery of a way to make stem cells without using embryonic stem cells.
  • The evidence of gravitational waves was discovered.
  • The first self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cell was created.
  • An artificial liver was developed to be used as a bridge for the liver transplant, minimizing the chances of liver failure.
  • The discovery of a previously unknown human ancestor, homo nalendi, was found in a cave in South Africa.
  • The development of the first new antibiotic in 30 years – teixobactin – to fight growing drug-resistance.
  • The World Wildlife Foundation announced the discovery of 211 new species in the Eastern Himalayan region, including 133 plants, 39 invertebrates, 26 fish, 10 amphibians, one reptile, one bird, and one mammal.
  • The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was built, a 17-mile-long looped track located an average of 300 feet beneath the Earth’s surface under the Swiss-French border, which accelerates two beams of particles to 1.2 trillion electron volts (TeV) and then smashes them together. The solving of the Higgs boson is said to be one of the greatest scientific mysteries of modern times.
  • Scientists at the Genome Sequencing Center report that they have sequenced all the DNA from the cancer cells of a woman who died of leukemia and compared it to her healthy cells. In doing so, the experts found mutations in the cancer cells that may have either caused the cancer or helped it progress. It is the first time scientists have completed such research.
  • Water was discovered on the surface of Mars
  • Scientists have created a vaccine that seems to reduce the risk of contracting the AIDS virus.
  • Scientists have published the first comprehensive analysis of the genetic code of the Y chromosome.
  • The Hubble telescope has detected the oldest known planet—and it appears to have been formed billions of years earlier than astronomers thought possible, 12.7 billion years ago.
  • Two new solar systems were discovered.
  • The world’s first vaccine was developed against the malaria parasite, which has been shown to be effective against even the most deadliest strains.
  • Jadarite was discovered; it is an essential component in the production of batteries for cellphones, computers, and electric or hybrid cars.
  • Exoplanets have been confirmed to exist revolving around distant stars similar to our sun. As a result, we may begin a rethinking of the universe and our place within it.
  • A vaccine preventing cervical cancer was developed.
  • Then, there were the inventions of the iPod, the iPhone, hybrid cars, the Segway transporter, 3-D printing, augmented reality, and using water as fuel.

While there may be a debate about which of these or other discoveries are the Top 10 of the past fifteen years or so, there should be no question that the above evidence illustrates how important it is to train and support the next generation of scientists.

Improving Science Project Understanding with Poetry

This summer, I had the pleasure of attending the final presentations by middle school students who attended a summer space science program organized by the Christa McAuliffe Center for Integrated Science Learning at Framingham State University.  As I went around the room talking with each group of students, I was amazed by the detailed information the students knew about the subjects of their displays.  I was fascinated by the range of subject matter, from detailed plans of a planetarium, through a model of the solar system to a recently discovered world made of water.

I figured that the students were space-fans before they participated, so asked each of them whether they had previous knowledge about their subject or had learned it from the summer program.  To my surprise, all but one student responded that they had just learned the material as part of the program.

As I was driving home, I remembered each of the students enthusiastically asking me if I would like to hear the poem they had written about their project. Each poem, short or long, was packed with an amazing amount of rich and colorful imagery!  At first it seemed strange to combine science and poetry, but then I read a 2015 NIH report that states, “Poetry hones critical skills in imagery, metaphor, analogy, analysis, observation, attentiveness, and clear communication. All of these are commonly useful in understanding, problem-solving, and decoding scientific and medical mysteries.”

It’s true what they say, “Poetry can make a topic memorable through the use of well-chosen words and vivid images.”  Kudos to the staff at the Christa McAuliffe Center for Integrated Science Learning for guiding students in an unforgettable experience.  Perhaps, those of us who assist students to get ready for their science fair presentations can incorporate this method to help them better understand their project.

A Hiaku about The Hercules Cluster

Poem about the “Freeze-Burn” planet

Poems about the Orion, Ring, Dumbbell and Crab Nebulae

Don’t Waste the Summer!

School is over for just about everyone, and most of the science fairs have finished.  But, summer is the perfect time to start thinking about and planning next year’s science fair project.  If you get a big head start with your next independent science project, especially if you do research on your topic over the summer, you’re sure to have a much better chance at winning an award than if you wait to start until the week before the project is due.

Have you checked out the Mister Science Fair Facebook page lately?  All year long, our Facebook page is full of useful information, advice, resources, and inspiration to create a science fair or engineering design project. It’s also the perfect place to learn about other science competitions you might be interested in entering in addition to your local school fair.

Many competitions release their rules and deadlines over the summer. You might even find ideas for topics on web sites such as the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, Kid Wind Challenge, the Cybermission Challenge and the Google Science Fair. And, if you’re entering your senior year in high school, the “Nobel Prize” of high school science competitions is the Regeneron Science Talent Search. And, our Facebook page has links to stories about the winners of some of the local, national & international competitions, and information about upcoming science competitions with thousands of dollars in prizes.

Summer Opportunities

On our Facebook page, there’s news about free online courses such as MatLab’s Modeling and Simulation class and the “Hour of Code” projects, as well as fun links to videos including the Zombie College lab safety film.

As the science fair season heats up in the fall, you’ll also see posts such as common Safety Review issues and the Most Likely Questions to be asked by one of your judges.

Facebook posts happen nearly every day. So, check us out at and “like” us on Facebook to make sure you don’t miss out on the information and excitement this summer!

Inquisitive minds must be nurtured

Several parents have asked me over the years, “What did you do to fuel your son’s passion for science?”

As someone who became a math major in college with the hope of someday realizing my dream of working for NASA and the space program, I used to love watching my son develop an appetite for science.  It was deeply satisfying for me to see him explore his personal interests in geology and paleontology – interests that would not only eventually become hobbies and science fair projects, but would also lead him to a career in these and other science-related areas when he grew up.  Don’t we all yearn to have fun at our jobs?

A lot of his interest in science was originally sparked by taking him to the Museum of Science and to the Aquarium and to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, where he was first introduced to the “ooo’s” and “aaaahhh’s” of biology, chemistry, astronomy, oceanography, electricity and… dinosaurs.  What kid (or adult) isn’t fascinated with the Van de Graaff generator, the huge T-Rex, or real sharks in huge tanks?   But most museums also have wonderful interactive exhibits and trained professionals to help explain what your child is experiencing in ways that may help them want to learn more.

The courses my son took at the Museum and Aquarium, on weekends and during school vacations when he was an elementary school student, allowed him to have a hands-on experience in “the art of experimentation” with activities, materials and equipment that I couldn’t afford to supply at home, at an age when it could (and obviously did) make a lasting impression.

When it came time for him to start working on school science projects and his science fair projects, the contacts he had made at the Museum of Science, in particular, were invaluable to opening many doors.  The Museum staff not only helped him develop his project ideas, but helped him to find access to materials, labs and equipment not often available to someone so young.

The most valuable thing you can do to help your child start developing an interest in the fascinating world of science is to encourage regular visits to a science museum.  Encourage them to take the courses there, and when they express an interest in a specific topic, nurture their natural curiosity until it blossoms into their own experiment or project.  A museum course instructor or workshop leader may even agree to become a mentor to your child, and may be best equipped to help your child to expand upon ideas and interests.

Harvard Museum of Natural History

New England Aquarium

Boston Museum of Science

 

 

 

 

What do Bill Gates and Marconi have in common?

I recently read a quote from the most influential physicist of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, and it immediately made me LOL (laugh out loud).  Einstein said, “A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of thirty will never do so.”( Brodetsky, S. Nature 150, 698-699 (1942).  I don’t know why I thought the quote was funny, but it brought to mind the importance of getting students interested in science and the “wow factor” of scientific discovery, at as young an age as possible.

Research indicates that the most recent Nobel Prize winners made their discoveries in mid-life (late 40s) and, that NIH grants have been awarded in recent years to more established scientists (late 40s), But there are many scientists including Einstein, who made incredible discoveries or who developed inventions in their 20s. Among the youngest of the bunch includes Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the radio.

James Watson was only 25 when he wrote one of the most important scientific papers of all time about DNA.  Isaac Newton was 23 when he began inventing calculus. Galileo published his first piece of writing at age 22.  Edwin Armstrong, an electrical engineer who was fascinated by radio from childhood, built a 125-foot-tall antenna in his front yard at the age of 20; within two years he invented the continuous-wave transmitter and the regenerative circuit which developed the backbone of radio communications as we know it, and later invented FM Radio.

Younger scientists and inventors also include Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, noted chemist Glenn Seaborg, and Danish Nobel Prize winning physicist Neils Bohr who developed the model of the atom and who’s one of the scientists featured in a book for children from the Galactic Academy of SciencesThe Desperate Case of the Diamond Chip.

The one thing all the “younger scientists” mentioned above, seem to have in common is an inquisitive mind. The story is told about Einstein’s curiosity at a young age about the pocket compass his father showed him, and Einstein’s interest in what made the needle move despite the “empty space.” Bill Gates developed a fascination about computer programming when he was a teenager, and spent countless hours learning how to do different things with source codes and computer languages before anyone else his age at the time. With Glenn Seaborg, it was a high school science teacher that spurred his interest in chemistry, and in college Seaborg learned to ask relevant questions in his dealings with Berkeley physicist Robert Oppenheimer, who later became the director of the Manhattan Project.

Several years ago, Francis Collins, the director of the NIH, stated in a Wall Street Journal article (“Fleeting Youth, Fading Creativity,” February 2010) “researchers in the early stages of their careers tend to be the ones with the fire in the belly. They’re not afraid of tackling the really hard problems.”  As a result, Collins further went on to say the NIH was intending to increase the percentage of grants going to scientists applying for their first grant.

Discoveries by younger scientist may be more commonplace over the next decade as a result of the response by the NIH and because of the Next Generation Science Standards.  These new standards, mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, will result in more teaching and testing of students on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) literacy in elementary, middle and high schools across the USA.

Encourage a youngster you know to get interested in science.

Bill Gates was 13 years old when he developed an interest in the then growing field of computer programming. Within a few years, he found ways to access computer time at local computer companies. By the time he was a college sophomore, he was devising solutions to complex and unsolved math problems with his programming skills. Before his 32rd birthday, Gates had become the world’s youngest self-made billionaire. What most people do not associate with Gates, is the word ‘risk’. But Bill Gates had to go through the same trials and tribulations that most scientists and entrepreneurs have to go through to achieve their goals.

Don’t Attack the Science Fair Project – Embrace It!

I was upset last year when I saw this photo, below, printed in the Huffington Post and circulate through social media.  It seems like every year there is the angst that a science fair project assignment creates for many students and their families. It’s unfortunate that science fairs and independent research projects seem to get attacked this way. As a new school year kicks off, it’s a great time for parents to take a fresh look at what science fair is all about, the role parents should play, and what everyone involved can do to make the process less stressful for all involved and a success.

To start with, attitude plays a huge role in how students approach their science fair project. Maybe you had a bad experience with a science project as a child, but adults need to put that experience behind them and to understand the process so that if they encourage their child with a positive perspective, the end result may not be as traumatic.

For whatever reason you cringe at the thought of a science fair project, you are not alone. But instead of shying away from it you need to embrace it because even though your child may not grow up to be a scientist, the learning that happens by doing a hands-on science project is enormous. For starters, it integrates almost every skill children have been taught and 21st Century skills your child needs to experience from reading, writing, research, math and critical thinking, to computer science, graphic arts, public speaking, gaining confidence and the thrill of discovery. As a parent, you should encourage all this blended learning rather than discourage it.

So before you groan, and before you allow your child to complain about his or her science fair project, realize that your response might have an impact on it being a positive experience and a great learning opportunity.

And, let’s not forget that if your child is selected to go on to local or national competition, it can pay off in cash or other prizes, and may open the doors to internships and scholarships.

What’s the best reaction you can have when you discover there’s a science project due? How about saying something like, “Wow, that’s great, maybe you can do a project about [insert your child’s favorite hobby, interests, subject, etc. here].  Then, help them get started right away.

Elsewhere on this website you’ll find information about how to get started, and how to choose a science fair topic if you don’t already have ideas. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us: info (at) MisterscienceFair.com or via our web contact form.

Make sure you also regularly check our Facebook page for on-going ideas and information about other competitions you can enter.

We know this is not a real science fair project (this never made it to a science fair – it stays permanently in the home of a very frustrated mom who made this project to show her frustrations - see Huffington Post article here).  Don’t let this happen to your family. Don’t start your child’s science fair experience off on the wrong foot!

Help ward off “Summer Brain Drain” and nurture a science project at the same time

Several parents have asked me over the years, “What did you do to fuel your son’s passion for science?”

As someone who became a math major in college with the hope of someday realizing my dream of working for NASA and the space program, I used to love watching my son develop an appetite for science.  It was deeply satisfying for me to see him explore his personal interests in geology and paleontology – interests that would not only eventually become hobbies and science fair projects, but would also lead him to a career in these and other science-related areas when he grew up.  Don’t we all yearn to have fun at our jobs?

A lot of his interest in science was originally sparked by taking him to the Museum of Science and to the Aquarium, where he was first introduced to the “ooo’s” and “aaaahhh’s” of biology, chemistry, astronomy, oceanography, electricity and… dinosaurs.  What kid (or adult) isn’t fascinated with the Van de Graaff generator, the huge T-Rex, or real sharks in huge tanks?

It has been well documented that many students lose more than 2 months of knowledge over the summer.   The courses my son took at the science museum and aquarium, on weekends and especially during summer when he was in elementary & middle school student, allowed him to have a hands-on experience in “the art of experimentation” with activities, materials and equipment that I couldn’t afford to supply at home, at an age when it could (and obviously did) make a lasting impression.

When it came time for him to start working on school science projects and his science fair projects, the contacts he had made at the Boston Museum of Science, in particular, were invaluable to opening many doors.  The Museum staff not only helped him develop his project ideas, but helped him to find access to materials, labs and equipment not often available to someone so young.

The most valuable thing you can do to help your child start developing an interest in the fascinating world of science this summer is to encourage regular visits to a science museum, aquarium, zoo — or even your local library or bookstore where they host workshops, so your child can be introduced to the Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) subjects that most interest him or her.

When your child expresses an interest in a specific topic, nurture their natural curiosity until it blossoms into their own experiment or project.  A museum course instructor or workshop leader may even agree to become a mentor to your child, and may be best equipped to help your child to expand upon ideas and interests.

Have a great summer!

You can find lots of fun workshops at your local bookstore or library over the summer. 

You can’t fail doing a science fair project!

What is a science fair project? Too often, students and parents look at a science fair project as just another class assignment the student must complete in order to pass a course. But in fact, a science fair project is really more like an independent study course to develop a student’s interests, special talents, abilities, career training or more.

A child is naturally curious. A science project can nurture this curiosity. If a teacher understands this and can get this message across to students, a science fair project can be an exciting learning tool, and a challenge and discovery experience that will last a lifetime.

In most cases, a science project will be the first time your child isn’t being told what to do, how to do it, or that there is only one correct solution to a problem. It’s a unique way for your child to pose questions for which they must find answers to satisfy their own curiosity about the world around them. Your child gets to choose his/her own topic, and decide the best way to approach the project on their own. In fact, it’s okay for their hypothesis to not turn out as they predicted.

In the case of an engineering design project it’s also quite acceptable to fail and try to re-design it another way, often several times before success is achieved. I’m reminded here about the story of Thomas Edison, who is said to have tried 700 different ways to make a light bulb before making one that worked.  This is a valuable lesson we should allow our children to learn on their own. Imagine if Edison had stopped after 600 tries!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The role both teachers and parents can best play in a science or engineering project experience is that of a facilitator, helping students come up with an idea that’s of most interest to him/her and helping them find the resources they need to complete their project.  Science is all around us and can be found in the most unlikely places. Almost every interest can be turned into a science project, from cooking and gardening to cosmetics, music, gaming, engineering, sports and even candy – yes, there are several very interesting and fun experiments with M&M’s.

It’s helpful to remember that an eighth grader is not being asked to conduct a Nobel-winning experiment – students should always select an age appropriate project. Help the student realize the importance of always using the scientific method or an engineering design process. For instance, if a student wants to build a hovercraft, help him or her to create a real science experiment — building five different small models of a hovercraft and testing how well each of them works with a different type of battery is an example of this approach.

As an adult, the most important thing you can do is to leave the experiment in the hands of the student. While you want to be a sounding board or a chauffeur, the safety officer or the cheerleader, it’s their experiment. Whether the hypothesis is proven or disproven, there are results to be analyzed and conclusions to draw.  Even if the wheel fell off the cart, discovering why, and how to prevent it next time, is one step forward in the scientific method or in the engineering design process. This means the goal of the project – to be an independent learning experience – was met.  Success!

It’s time for all students to become more science literate

Informal science education, such as the type of learning a student gets outside of the normal classroom environment by participating in a science fair, provides kids with an in-depth and hands-on look at “real world” science.  While it’s possible that participation in a science fair can open doors for students who have already discovered their abilities and passion for science, it can also help students develop an interest in science which could be important to them no matter which career they choose.

Some of the most important arguments for the Next Generation Science Standards are: 1) American students are falling behind in math and science, performing at levels below students in competitor nations on international tests. In the most recent results, the United States slipped from 25th to 31st in math since 2009; and from 20th to 24th in science; 2) fewer students are pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines, and 3) science is profoundly important to address the problems we’re now facing such as preventing and curing diseases, maintaining supplies of clean water and addressing the energy crisis.

Source: Programme for International Student Assessment, OECD, 2012.

Our collective futures are dependent upon students being interested in science.  The purpose of more science education, broadly expressed as ‘STEM literacy’ is to motivate all students (not just the parents and students who are already a fan of science) to fully engage in the very active practices of science and engineering. Aside from the movement to provide 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade, the other important reason to help your child become interested in science is that through the Next Generation Science Standards, students will be tested on STEM literacy in school.

As your child passes through all grade levels, the new Next Generation Science Standards testing will be evaluating your child’s skills and capabilities in areas such as:
1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
2. Developing and using models
3. Planning and carrying out investigations
4. Analyzing and interpreting data
5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
7. Engaging in argument from evidence
8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

In essence, the new standards recognize that “science, engineering and technology permeate every aspect of modern life” and that by the time a student graduates high school they “should have sufficient knowledge of science and en­gineering to engage in public discussions on science-related issues, to be critical consumers of scientific information related to their everyday lives, and to be able to continue to learn about science throughout their lives.”

Scientists are no longer just a bunch of old men in white coats with goggles, pens in pocket protectors, grumpy attitudes and an inability to talk about anything other than research.  Elon Musk, at 36 was named Entrepreneur of the Year. Why? Because by then he was already the CEO of Telsa Motors and Solar City, was co-founder of Paypal and was the then head-rocket-designer for SpaceX.  38-year-old Mayim Bialik who plays a neuroscientist on The Big Bang Theory has a PhD in Neuroscience in real life!

A non-scientist – but someone who has an interest in, and an understanding of science – might be the salesperson at the appliance store who can help you select the most cost-effective furnace, or the grocery store clerk who understands the potential for botulism if meat isn’t properly refrigerated, or the politician who’s fighting for a clean-energy policy.

Science is all around us, and it benefits everyone at every age, to become more science literate.

How to create a great…and winning science project

You’re probably at this website because you (or your child) has been assigned to do a science project this year. This is NOT like your other school work and definitely should not be treated the same way.

Doing a science project doesn’t have to be anything like school work. In fact it can be great fun if you choose a topic or project on something that’s really interesting to you like plants or food, or computers or sports? Do you enjoy roller coasters, computer games or dinosaurs? Have you ever asked yourself why something works the way it does? Do you care about the environment or forensic investigations?

Science is all around you. What’s great about a science fair project is you get to create your own question – and, find the answer to it. You can do a science project on anything that interests you. You’re only limited by your own imagination!

It doesn’t matter if you’re in elementary school, middle school or high school, you should go through the same process to pick a topic. The most important thing is to choose a subject that’s interesting and fun for you — and your science fair project won’t be mind-numbing like some of your other schoolwork might be. It will only become a chore if you wait until the last minute to try and get it done.

If you’re genuinely interested in the subject of your science project, then your interest will come through in the quality of your project and, in your interviews with the judges.

Come back and visit our web site over the next several weeks and months, as we create the step by step process to not only survive your science fair experience – but thrive with it.  Next time – help in choosing a topic.

Make sure you also regularly check our Facebook page for on-going ideas and information about other competitions you can enter.