Winning contestants for the annual Science Talent Search, a large competition for high school students in the United States (US), have just been announced. Following a description of this activity sponsored by the Intel Corporation and conducted by the Society for Science & the Public, I will give a few comments about this program.
A brief history of the Science Talent Search and its sponsors [1-3]!
This contest was originated in 1942 by the precursor of the Society for Science & the Public (see: https://www.societyforscience.org/mission-and-history ). Its chief aim is to promote education and interest in science. This Society also runs 2 well-known websites devoted to public education about science: (1) Science News is for all the public (see: https://www.sciencenews.org ), and, (2) Science News for Students serves many youths (see: https://student.societyforscience.org/sciencenews-students ).
With financial sponsorship for many years by the Westinghouse Corporation, the participation by US students, their teachers, and others grew over the years. In 1998, the Intel Corporation took over financial sponsorship, and initiated a second science competition for international youths, termed the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair; that involves many affiliated science fairs in over 75 countries. A number of other businesses add to the total financial sponsorship.
The importance and success of these annual events are widely recognized by the public and all media. For the latest 75th Intel Science Talent Search, awardees won prizes totaling over $1,600,000! After 2017, a new major sponsor must be found to replace Intel .
How is the Science Talent Search organized and conducted [1-4]?
This large competition is for students in US high schools and home schools. The ideas, plans, and conduct of the research project must come from the individual student. In addition to the experimental work, each contestant must compose a document about their project, using a format similar to research reports published in professional science journals. All contestants are judged by scientists working in the same area of research as the teenagers.
For the latest competition (2016), there were around 1,750 applicants. From these, the reviewers selected 300 semi-finalists. Further expert reviews looked for creativity, good design and conduct, valid conclusions, and evidence of innovation, resulting in 40 finalists. For 2016, 3 levels of awards are given in 3 categories of science and research: (1) basic research, (2) (research for) global good, and (3) innovation. The 3 first level awardees received $150,000 each, the 3 second level awardees received $75,000, and the 3 third level awardees received $25.000. These substantial awards were presented at a banquet and celebration held in honor of all the finalists.
Which teens won the 2016 science contest [1-4]?
The First Place Medals of Distinction went to Amol Punjabi (17 years old; Massachusetts) for his project in “Basic Research”, Paige Brown (17 years old; Maine) for her research in “Global Good”, and, Maya Varma (17 years old; California) for her engineering development displaying much “Innovation”. Full details about their research investigations, and, about the second and third place medalists, are available in the official Press Release at: https://www.societyforscience.org/content/press-room/innovative-teen-scientists-win-more-1-million-awards-intel-science-talent-search .
All these teen awardees from many different schools in many different states show energetic work with creativity, individualism, and innovation on research projects involving diverse aspects of science. Their success in researching is very commendable, and, it is easy to predict that each can help advance science and improve the world!
Do Science Talent Search prizewinners later enter science and do well at researching [1-4]?
Many winners in this science contest go on to become professional scientists. Some have become presidents of universities or big bosses of large corporations. Several even have received a Nobel Prize for their later outstanding research accomplishments. Obviously, the many Nobel Laureates who did not win a Science Talent Search award indicate that the qualities and capabilities needed to excel with scientific research also can be found in non-winners and non-entrants.
What does the Intel Science Talent Search do that is very good?
This annual competition, under dedicated organization by the Society for Science and the Public, produces several results that are most valuable for modern US society. It (1) very effectively counters the false portrayal by Hollywood that scientists are weird or mad creatures who are only good for laughs, (2) gives all teen contestants a chance to learn to think for themselves and to move ideas into concrete objects and activities, (3) builds general enthusiasm among teens that science is interesting and is not just dry facts and figures, (4) encourages young people to find out more about careers in science, and (5) focuses attention of the public on research activities. All of these are immensely important and so very wonderful!
Some critical comments about the Science Talent Search!
Considering the usual overemphasis on sports and entertainment in schools, substitution of memory for understanding in classrooms, and, general ignorance of what scientific research is all about, it is amazing that so many teens commit to working on a research project for this contest. The enthusiasm demonstrated for science by these young people strikingly contradicts the reluctance of many recent college graduates to enter a graduate school for training to become a professional scientist.
The current job environment for university scientists is extremely different from the pleasant experiences these teens have by working on high school research projects. I predict that many contestants going on to become professional researchers will choose to find satisfying work in industries or science-related jobs, instead of in academia.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not note that someone badly mis-categorized the excellent software project in “Basic Science” conducted by the First Place winner, Amol Punjabi; it is not basic research, and clearly is applied research!
It seems very obvious to me that the real winners of the annual Intel Science Talent Search competitions are all people in the public! That includes you!
 Brookshire, B., 2016. Teen scientists win big for health and environmental-cleanup research. Available on the internet at: https://student.societyforscience.org/article/teen-scientists-win-big-health-and-environmental-cleanup-research .
 Society for Science & the Public, 2016. Mission and history. Available on the internet at: https://www.societyforscience.org/mission-and-history .
 Intel Science Talent Search, 2016. Frequently asked questions. Available on the internet at: https://student.societyforscience.org/frequently-asked-questions .
 Hardy, Q., 2016. Intel to end sponsorship of science talent search. The New York Times (September 9), page B1 (Technology). Available on the internet at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/09/technology/intel-to-end-sponsorship-of-science-talent-search.html?_r=0 .
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