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SDARI Should Offer Prizes at the Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair

By Barbara B. Hemmingsen

The Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair (Science Fair for short) has completed 45 years of service to the children of San Diego and Imperial Counties. Thousands of students complete Science Fair projects each year in both public and private schools; after a competition at their schools, the best projects go to the regional Science Fair. The purposes of the Fair are to provide motivation and recognition to students who apply their knowledge and critical thinking skills to carry out projects in mathematics, science and engineering. In addition, the fair provides opportunities for students and their teachers to become acquainted with other students, teachers, scientists and engineers. The exhibition of the projects in Balboa Park creates public awareness of the scientific potential of our young people. Finally, the fair allows parents and the public to examine the products of scientific investigation and the communication skills of students in grades 7-12. Anyone who has ever visited the Science Fair exhibits can not help but be impressed with the diversity, enthusiasm, skill and involvement shown in the hundreds of exhibits on display. The Board of Governors consists of educators, scientists, politicians and business executives in the community. For example, Gene Bell of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Edward A. Frieman, emeritus Director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Stephen L. Weber, President, San Diego State University, Irwin Jacobs, Qualcomm, and Susan Golding, Mayor, San Diego, are members of the Board.

Students exhibit and explain their projects on judging day (in April) to two or three judges. The four best projects in the senior division are given $2000 scholarships and trips to the International Science Fair, to New Zealand or to Taiwan. The four winners of the junior division are given $200 and a plaque. Substantial cash awards are also given by five organizations. In addition there are 69 professional societies that send judges and give out awards: cash, bonds, books, certificates, calculators (in the case of Hewlett Packard). Some of these societies are the American Cancer Society for innovative projects dealing with cancer research and environmental health, American Women in Science for originality, student design, experimental design, data analysis and results, Optical Society of San Diego for best project related to optics, lasers, lenses, astronomy, etc.

The Board of Directors of SDARI has decided to establish an award for the best "critical thinking" project in both the Senior and the Junior Divisions. We have obtained preliminary permission from the Chair, Committee on Awards, for our participation. Obviously, all the projects entered in the Fair demonstrate critical thinking, so we need to be more specific in describing the standards for our prize. Some suggestions are: (1) the best projects that demonstrate the rational testing of pseudoscientific claims; (2) the best projects that use reason and experimentation to discredit irrational thinking; (3) the best projects that use reason and experimentation to test the claims of authorities. In the 1999 Fair several projects had titles that suggested they would be eligible for consideration for SDARI's prizes. For example: "Folk cures for prevention of tumors: Fact or fiction?" "Natural herbs vs. prescription drugs: Which is most effective?" "Effect of moon phase on birth rate?" "Yum! Blue-green algae, it's good for you. . .or is it?"

The type of prize must also be decided: cash, bond, certificate, or book? We should seriously consider inviting the winners to one of our meetings so that we may present our prize, see their projects and talk with them.

We need ideas, money and a Chair and committee members for the Science Fair Prize Committee. Please volunteer your time, money and energy. This is an excellent opportunity to get SDARI's message to the public and to young people. Use the envelope below to send in your contribution, your name and your ideas.