I enjoyed being a judge at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair last year so much that I immediately knew I wanted to do it again. This year, it was held in Indianapolis. I dragged Carl along with me, and we were both assigned to the Space Sciences division. We arrived in Indianapolis late Monday night, and as we were checking into the hotel, I noticed a woman wearing an ISEF badge. Turns out that she was the mother of one of the students competing and she thanked us for volunteering our time. This had already been an amazing experience for her daughter, and she'd decided to become an engineer because of the competition. Nifty!
On Tuesday, after registering at the Fair, Carl and I walked about downtown Indianapolis for a little bit.
Looking down a side street:
The State Capitol is pretty:
I don't know how much more American you can get:
One of the perks of being a judge is attending a panel of Nobel Prize winners, who show up to the Fair to interact with and inspire the students. Jocelyn Bell Burnell was on the panel, although not a Nobel Prize winner. (But she should be!) Hers is a story I relate to my classes, and I was surprised at how emotionally affected I was by her. Another thing that struck me about the prize winners overall is how normal, but extremely competent and confident they were. They reminded me of astronauts. (As a side note, all of the folding chairs had "Hoosier Dome" embossed on them. Definitely in Indiana.)
Wednesday was devoted to judging. All the kids look so young, although you have to be a high schooler to compete. Many of the international students wear their national dress. Most of the projects are so far beyond what I could have done at their age. One student I interviewed had already submitted his work to a professional journal and was partway through the peer-review process. My most entertaining interaction was with a student who noted that I was the "second aggressive female astronomer" who had asked him a specific question. I smiled all friendly-like and said, "Excuse me?" To which he responded, "I meant, you're just so on top of things." Hmm...methinks he doesn't speak much to people with breasts.
All-in-all, I enjoyed judging again and found it very rewarding. Next year's fair will be in Albuquerque - all the fun, plus green chile!