One of the best ways for kids to learn science: by doing it

A biodegradable Band-Aid. A low-cost, ultrasonic guide to parallel parking. A reinvention of the toilet. These were among the nearly 1,400 science fair projects on display at the 2014 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Science News’ parent organization, the Society for Science & the Public, has run the annual event since 1950. This year’s fair brought a record-breaking number of student finalists to compete in Los Angeles. And that’s where I found myself in mid-May as this issue of the magazine was going to press.

My first day there, I had to dodge teen scientists using yards of double-sided tape to affix posters to three-panel boards; a congregation from Team Brazil (clad in green-and-yellow jackets) practicing science spiels with the same intensity as any sports warm-up; and, as one might expect with an event for high-schoolers, lots of socializing.

On our Science News for Students website (, you can read about a few of the many fascinating projects. A trio from Dix Hills, N.Y., focused on trapping bedbugs. Polystyrene recycled from a Styrofoam coffee cup proved the best material to immobilize a hairy bedbug leg. An Iraqi girl studied whether infrared light could be used to counter movie piracy. A team from Hanoi showed that plant compounds called saponins, extracted from a by-product of fiber production, could help keep fresh fruits from spoiling.

Some of the projects, though done by young folk, would not be terribly out of place in the pages of Science News. Many are sophisticated, if somewhat incremental, and engage in an ongoing scientific conversation. Others are more idiosyncratic — questions you can imagine a 16-year-old asking and trying to answer. All show the benefits of getting kids involved in original research. I couldn’t walk down an aisle of the exhibition hall in the L.A. Convention Center without learning at least one new thing. There’s no way that the students producing these projects didn’t learn a huge amount, both about doing science and about how to communicate the results in a clear and compelling way. Budding scientists need both.

Tune in next issue to find out about this year’s winners. I’m sure that you, like me, will find their enthusiasm and ingenuity inspiring. 

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