Scientists of the (near) future!
I was recently privileged to be a judge at the Canada-Wide Science Fair. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) was considerate enough to sponsor me to attend (i.e. take a day off work) so I could help judge some of the 400 projects presented by Grade seven to 12 students from across Canada.
For the first time in its 53-year history, the fair was held in New Brunswick. As it was hosted by the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton (my alma mater), the organizer put out a call to alumni to see who would be available to fill the 350 judging spots to form teams in seven categories. My category, of course, was “environment.”
These projects were awarded top spots at provincial science fairs, and are not the papier-mâché baking soda and vinegar volcano type projects of old. These are well-thought-out experiments, each asking a unique question and controlling for variables. The projects I viewed ranged from the impact of lettuce varieties on growth using different light sources, to toxicity of agricultural fungicides on aquatic life, to testing the impacts of water temperature on young native fish growth and survival.
I also stepped outside my current area of expertise to judge medical biology type experiments — these kids were helping to find treatments for cancer, working in cancer research labs and testing cell lines with new or a new combination of cancer drugs. I must admit I had to blow the dust off my undergrad biochemistry book and Google some terms before I judged those projects so I could ask intelligent questions! Some of these kids are literally doing masters level projects.
I was surprised, however, at the wide range of critical thinking skills being displayed at the basis of the projects. Some projects were well executed but when deeper questions were asked about the main research question and logical extensions from it, the information was lacking. There is so much information now available on the internet but we still need to be able to think critically about that information, and provide support to our young people to build those skills. Regardless of the level of the project, or the topic, or the skills still to be learned, these young students all had one thing in common — their passion and curiosity and drive to learn that exemplifies a leader in the field of science. I hope they continue their interests and we see them continue to push science forward in Canada.