Austin’s Greatest Minds—The Prequel

Austin’s Greatest Minds—The Prequel

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JACOB VAN GEFFEN I doubt I’ll ever forget my own annual middle-school science fair. Those convoluted experiments and flashy poster boards could never escape my memory. For some, it was an exciting project that opened doors to new realms of science. For others, it was merely a distraction from reading the next volume of Harry Potter. However, no matter how devoted my classmates were to this assignment, every one of us had the opportunity to discover exactly what science is all about—exploration. On February 21, thousands of children from around the city were able to share their explorations, successes, failures, and insights at the Austin Energy Regional Science festival. This year, I was lucky enough to serve as a judge, and what I witnessed truly warmed my science-loving heart.

Children of all ages participated in the Regional Science festival this year, but students were by no means limited by what they’d learned in class. Some of the 5th and 6th graders I judged made projects involving the polarization of water molecules, properties of Wi-Fi signals, and the interaction between photons and water molecules that enables evaporation. Projects were required to contain a hypothesis, experimental data, and a conclusion in order to model the scientific method. In addition, many students went above and beyond, supplementing their projects with additional research and well-thought-out graphs of their data. As I talked to students, I realized how much effort each of them put into studying their topic of choice. The excitement glistened in their voices just as much as the glitter on their posters. These kids were here because they cared.

Throughout the orientation, the leaders of the Regional Science festival stressed the importance of encouraging these young scientists to feel proud of what they’d accomplished and to continue exploring science with a critical mindset. This is, after all, exactly what the science fair was made for—to let students explore. Science has never been about getting things right the first time or memorizing an answer to some arbitrary question. Science is a passion, a promise to approach challenges from every angle. My passion for science has allowed me to enjoy an exciting academic career, and I’m so glad these children will have the same opportunity.

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