Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Canada Wide Science Fair

For the past two days, I've been a judge at the Canada Wide Science Fair here in Ottawa. The students and their projects have been extremely impressive. For those in the Ottawa area who want to see some of the future stars of Canadian research and innovation, there is a public viewing this Saturday, May 17th between 9am and noon in Montpetit gym at the University of Ottawa.


13 comments:

Larry Moran said...

One of the problems with so-called "science" fairs is that the projects often focus on technology rather than science. It's easier to do a project on some aspect of science application than on something that addresses knowledge of how nature works.

Is that true of the Canada Wide Science Fair as well? What percentage of the projects are really technology as opposed to pure science? When you're judging do you tilt towards real science projects?

rob said...

I participated as a judge also, and I would agree that there are many technology focused projects. However, at least half are pure experimentally focused science. For the age groups involved, in general, the projects were extremely impressive. Of the more experimental based projects many were ingeniously simple, yet relevant and novel. Certainly even these projects were not earth shattering about the 'way nature works' but the future of science is in some good hands.

kamel said...

There was certainly a large number of technology projects. The projects were subdivided into categories, which included an engineering division. Marking sheets had criteria provided for judging experiment vs. innovation vs. study. I didn't tilt towards pure science projects, but it was important (to me) that the more technological projects involved understanding of the underlying scientific concepts.

Bayman said...

A fair that celebrates science is a good idea.

I'm sure the fair itself was good but, but what I found really disappointing was the slant some local newspapers chose to take in hyping the fair - as Larry says, the impetus for the competition was conveyed as technology development. To the effect of "this is the place to find the 13 year olds who will find the cure for cancer or design better bunker-buster bombs".

If this is the case maybe they should rename it the technology fair. Then again, most money distributed to North American scientist for "science" is also directed toward technology development. We seem to have a hard time appreciating the value of pure science. Perhaps not surprising given the economic climate.

Anonymous Coward said...

Having been a judge at the Aventis biotech challenge for 3 years I remember that there were two types of project: those from students embedded in a lab and those that tried things on their own. In the latter it was rarely because they saw something they wanted to understand, it was more an attempt to create a product. Mind you that was the slant of the whole competition, but I get the sense that naturalism is not very popular anymore.

Bayman said...

Just got back from University of Ottawa Biochemistry/Micro/Immunology poster day. Can confirm that >95% of projects are product driven.

Anonymous Coward said...

Do you think that's a bad thing?

The Doc said...

There's nothing wrong with applied science. Half of the cancer research I've seen, not to mention much of the medical chemistry/medicine research... pharmaceutical work would fall under the 'technology' category.

It's not like 'real' research gets money to fund it, anyway. (end sarcasm)

Bayman said...

There's nothing wrong with applied science.

Nothing wrong with it, no. One might ask whether it is best carried out in under a university or industrial framework and whether it is most efficiently conducted by a student or technical profession workforce. And conversely, what impact does does the pseudo-industrialization of universities have on post-graduate education?

The Doc said...

That's a very good point, Bayman. My thesis was conducted as a joint bit of work between a university and industry, and I have to say that the blend worked quite well.

In North America and Europe, large industry is big enough to conduct it's own big research... I don't think that is true of places like New Zealand, and probably much of Africa, and Asia. Business needs to work with a University to get the brains to power the work that they need done - and Universities often appreciate having projects that can bring them money, and students.

Certainly, we had a very good system worked out for the royalties from these developments, and we were allowed to publish essentially everything that was done, which meant that the university got what it needed, the student got what it needed, and so did industry.

And there was even some basic science thrown in for measure...

kamel said...

There's nothing wrong with applied science.

No, there's not. Bayman raises some interesting questions about the role of universities and university/industry interface. Since we were originally talking about a high school science fair, it seems these biases are being developed at a young age. I wonder if the applied science slant (even the non-technological projects I reviewed included some sort of practical application bit at the end) comes from a natural bias (kids naturally lean towards projects they can 'use'), teaching bias (consciously or not, kids are learning that science is only worthwhile if it can be applied/monetized in some way) or judging bias (these students have gone through rounds of selection to get to the Canada-wide round).

Clodoaldo said...

I think it actually reveals a natural bias in the way we do things. Much of what we do on a daily basis is actually "How can I do that better", not fundimental "Why, Where, What, How" science questions.

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