How did you think of that!?: The beginning of the State Science Fair journey
One of the major benefits of the State Science and Engineering Fair (SSEF) is developing students’ ability to conduct independent research. In fact, of our 2019 SSEF participants, 94% reported increased research skills and 86% noted their capability to work independently had increased! Students’ first opportunity to flex these skills when developing their project is in the initial project idea phase.
It all begins with that moment of inspiration for a great project.
But how do our SSEF students get their creative project ideas? When we asked our 2019 participants, they revealed a wide range of sources for that elusive “aha!” moment.
Many of our participants noticed an issue at school and decided to investigate further. Other students began with a classroom project and chose to extend it into a more in-depth study.
Bernadette Latham, a first-time science fair participant, chose to research gender stereotypes when she noticed something interesting during a poem assignment at school. Students were asked to write a poem about themselves. Girls tended to chose words like ‘kind’ and boys tended to chose words like ‘strong’. Bethany told us that “it was kind of shocking to me that gender stereotypes exist. I thought that maybe I should be working to do something about it.” She hypothesized that as students aged, they would not “fit the mold as much” and gender stereotypes would lessen.
Many students saw an issue in their community and wanted to work on a solution. Some students gained inspiration from a family member, or an issue in their neighborhood, while others sought to improve an issue in the whole country, or even the world!
8th grader Mohamed Hassan was inspired to look for a way to keep food fresh longer. “A lot of people in third world countries don’t have food. In the U.S., people dispose of food before they get a chance to eat it.” Mohamed and his two research partners, Aneeq Ahmed and Mohammed Omer, invented a container to keep food fresh in the refrigerator longer. Mohamed hopes to develop their invention further and perhaps merge it with a refrigerator. Our judges were impressed with their efforts: Hassan, Ahmed and Omer won the Lemelson Foundation Early Inventor Prize, the Seagate Emerging Scientist Award, the Ecolab Food Safety Award, and the Minnesota Academy of Science Silver Award!
Many of our participants have that ‘aha’ moment while doing a favorite activity, while others find themselves called to improve something they love. Hobbies, favorite sports, and academic specialties been the inspiration for students’ projects.
Lauren Hagen and Charlie Horn were fueled by two personal interests - computer science and music. The pair invented a new way to use augmented reality to teach bass guitar.
Concern for natural resources provided a jumping off point for many of our students’ projects. Understandably in our land of ten thousand lakes, many participants focused on water quality issues. Clean air, invasive species control, and soil science were also popular topics. Other students focused on increasing knowledge of a favorite animal, including baboons, horseshoes crabs, red-headed woodpeckers, and monarch butterflies.
Cassandra Neumann, a student at Cloquet HS, has been researching invasive species removal for five years. She tested various methods of buckthorn removal, concluding that “hand cut” and “chemically cut” worked best. Neumann’s study won the Association for Women Geoscientists Student Award for Geoscience Excellence.
Furthering research on health and medicine provided a strong impetus for many students. Interestingly, participants often cited health issues encountered by family or friends as how they became interested in their topic.
Christine Song earned the DiaSorin Inc. Award by studying the connection between breast cancer and natural products. Her favorite thing about science fair was “connecting with people who share the same interests.”