Tomorrow Marks Fifth White House Science Fair

On March 23rd the White House will recognize the science and engineering achievements of students and teams of students in 34 different projects for the Fifth White House Science Fair.  The President should, as he has before, tour the Fair, and live video will be available through the White House website.  In case not every project gets time in front of the camera, please take a look at each of the participants here.  (One of the projects comes from my hometown, which is a nice surprise.)

My guesses as to what will get the most attention are the tech projects.  Robots are usually a good bet to get eyeballs, and a few robotics teams are exhibiting at the fair.  The jukebox piano and the augmented wheelchair could also catch a fair amount of interest.

I’ve been curious about how the projects are selected, and this recent Science Friday interview with current U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith and Associate Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy for Science Jo Handelsman hints at it.  White House staff apparently sort through science and technology fairs and similar competitions (one team was a finalist in Verizon’s Innovative App contest) and then select teams that represent a diversity of projects and people.  While I still think presenting at the White House Science Fair could be a great incentive for young researchers and tinkerers, there may not be a direct line for making that happen.

Coverage will begin at 7 a.m. Eastern tomorrow on The Weather Channel.  Live video from the White House should start around that time as well.  You can access that through the Science Fair website.



Do You Want To See Some Robots?

The DARPA Robotics Challenge will hold its 2015 finals June 5-6 in Pomona, California.  DARPA is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a part of the Defense Department focused on leading edge research in a number of fields.  Over 10 years ago started conducting competitions in driverless automobiles through competitions, and the Robotics Challenge is an offshoot of that effort.  Like the 2012 Challenge, this year the focus is on automated robots that can perform critical tasks in situations where communications from humans may be compromised.

As you might guess, those interested in competing are already well engaged in the process.  But high school students interested in this work have an opportunity to see it up close and personal (H/T White House).  DARPA is looking for 2-3 minute videos from students in grades 9-12 (in schools in the U.S. and its territories) that describe the kind of robot-assisted society that the entrants want to see.  Entries will be judged on clarity of ideas, creativity of presentation and quality of the video.  You have until April 1 to submit your entry.

Good luck!

Science Fairs And TV Shows, Oh My

Some announcements going into the weekend:

In advance of Pi Day (3/14), which is also Albert Einstein’s birthday, PBS has announced a new math special.  Mario Livio will host a NOVA special called The Great Math Mystery, premiering April 15.  Livio is an astrophysicist, science and math writer, and fan of science/culture mashups.  The mystery of the title is whether math(s) is invented or was discovered.

The Entertainment Industries Council is seeking votes for its first SET Award for Portrayal of a Female in Technology.  Nominations for the award were taken from the public over YouTube.  Voting on the award is via a Google form, so you will need a Google account to participate.  The nominees appear to be most of the women playing characters with technical jobs in television programs or recent films.  They are:

  • Annedroids on Amazon
  • Arrow: “Felicity Smoak” played by Emily Bett Rickards
  • Bones: “Angela Montenegro” played by Michaela Conlin
  • Criminal Minds: “Penelope Garcia” played by Kirsten Simone Vangsness
  • Halt and Catch Fire: “Cameron Howe” and “Donna Clark” played by Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bisché
  • How to Build a Better Boy: “May” and “Gabby” played by China Anne McClain and Kelli Berglund
  • The Imitation Game: “Joan Clarke” played by Keira Knightley
  • Interstellar: “Murph” played by Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn and Mackenzie Foy (at various ages)
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “Skye” played by Chloe Bennet
  • NCIS: “Abby Sciuto” played by Pauley Perrette
  • NCIS: Los Angeles: “Nell Jones” portrayed by Renee Felice Smith
  • Scorpion: “Happy Quinn” played by Jadyn Wong

I’d be interested in knowing (in the comments) who you think was missed.

Finally, the White House still loves it some Science Fair.  This week it announced that the next White House Science Fair will take place later this month – March 23.  Personally, I would prefer there to be some buildup to this event rather than just an announcement shortly before the fair.  After all, doesn’t the White House want to reach young people that may not already be plugged into the science fair ecosystem?  By this point in the calendar, I would expect everyone who will demonstrate their projects has been selected.  What about that young person wondering if they can find themselves explaining their work to the President?  It’s not obvious how they would make that happen.

What a missed opportunity.

Science Fair Season Is Upon Us

I’ve been inconsistent in noting the winners of the Intel Science Talent Search, which were announced today. This competition is focused on high school seniors in the United States, while the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is an International competition for students in grades 9-12.  Winners of that event are usually announced in May.

This year’s Science Talent Search top winners benefited from an increase in the top prize amounts and a restructuring of the awards into categories.  They each received $150,000 for their achievements.

Noah Golowich of Lexington, Massachusetts, won the Basic Research Medal for a proof in the area of Ramsey theory, a field of mathematics based on finding types of structure in large and complicated systems.

Andrew Jin of San Jose, California, won the Global Good Medal for developing a machine learning algorithm to identify adaptive mutations across the human genome. By analyzing massive public genomic datasets, his system discovered more than 100 adaptive mutations related to immune response, metabolism, brain development and schizophrenia in real DNA sequences.

Michael Hofmann Winer of North Bethesda, Maryland, won the Innovation Medal, for his studies of how fundamental quasi-particles of sound, called phonons, interact with electrons. His work could potentially be applied to more complex atomic structures such as superconductors.

Second and Third prizes were awarded in each of these categories as well.

Second prize:

Basic Research – Brice Huang of Princeton Junction, New Jersey.
Global Good – Kalia D. Firester of New York City.
Innovation – Saranesh (Saran) Thanika Prembabu of San Ramon, California.

Third prize:

Basic Research – Shashwat Kishore of West Chester, Pennsylvania
Global Good – Anvita Gupta of Scottsdale, Arizona
Innovation – Catherine Li of Orlando, Florida

Congratulations to all of the winners and finalists.

For Science Without Right Turns, There’s Acceleration Nation

The NASCAR season has officially started in the United States, with the Daytona 500 scheduled to take place tomorrow.  In partnership with Scholastic, NASCAR has launched a program to help kids in grades 5-7 learn science, technology, engineering and mathematics lessons through racing games and puzzles.  The site is called Acceleration Nation.

One emphasis of the program is aerodynamics.  Lessons are organized around what the program calls the ‘three D’s’ of speed: drag, downforce and drafting.  The Acceleration Nation website has games and puzzles to test skills in math, engine knowledge and building ability.  The website activities and classroom lessons can be augmented by track-day experiences where kids get behind the wheel and can learn more about how the race cars work.

Participating classes have an opportunity to win money, and there are prizes available for those competing online.  You will need to register in order to win.

DC To Welcome National Math Festival

On April 18, the Smithsonian Institution will host the first National Math Festival in Washington, D.C.  It will be the culmination of a weekend of events in the city to recognize outstanding math research, educators and books.

On April 16 there will be a morning breakfast briefing on Capitol Hill to discuss mathematics education.  It will be followed by a policy seminar in the Library of Congress and an evening gala to support basic research in mathematics and science.

On April 17 the Mathical Book Prizes will be awarded.  The awards recognize books that both teach math and have high literary quality.  Five prizes will be awarded to books targeted to particular grade levels.  The books must be published within the last five years.

The Math Festival will start at 10 am on April 18, at several Smithsonian locations across the National Mall.  The schedule strikes me as filled with hands-on activities, with some displays and exhibits thrown in for good measure.  I do expect the Minecraft-themed math presentation to be one of the more popular that day.

More Science & Technology Entertainment For The Curious – Crash Course, New Atlantis, CuriosityStream

Elementary continues to incorporate science and technology issues (and people) into its storylines (the last two episodes involved a drug trial and forging rare plants).  However, the television is not the most reliable source for such content.

One former network head seems to be trying.  John Hendricks, who founded the Discovery channel (and retired from the now-sprawling family of networks in 2014), is developing a streaming service focused on science and nature content.  Called CuriosityStream, it’s scheduled to premiere in March.  Offerings will include both original programming and science content from providers like BBC Worldwide, Terra Noa, Japanese channel NHK and France’s ZED.

Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, has started an online astronomy show.  Called Crash Course Astronomy, it’s part of the stable of educational programs developed by Hank and John Green.  The brothers have been creating online educational videos since 2007 and were given a Google grant to continue their work back in 2011.  Now they fund their efforts through subscriptions.  However, the Astronomy program has been helped into existence through a partnership with PBS Digital Studios.  Here’s episode one.

Finally, there is a new theatrical production called New Atlantis in London worth checking out.  It runs through the 25th.  Set in the year 2050, the play focuses on efforts to address London’s water shortages.  A special part of this production is the involvement of several scientists in the immersive production.  You could literally ask a scientist or engineer about some aspect of the play as it is happening.  New Atlantis is part of a series called Enlightenment Cafe, which has tackled projects with science and/or engineering knowledge before.