Maybe Matilda: Intel Science Talent Search in Washington DC!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Intel Science Talent Search in Washington DC!

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Intel for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

Well, I just got home from quite a weekend . . . I took a whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C. to attend the Intel Science Talent Search! In case you're not familiar with this, it's the nation's most prestigious and elite pre-college science competition. Out of nearly 2,000 appliants, 40 finalists are chosen to travel to DC to show off their hard work and research projects, meet with hot shot scientists, and compete for over $600,000 in scholarship prizes. The cool thing about this event is that the contestants are selected and awarded for not just one specific science project, but for their overall creativity, personality, work, and potential in the scientific fields. It is truly a talent search, not just a science fair.

First things first, I've got to ask it: do you ever look at teenagers today and just feel kind of concerned? I mean, between constant texting and ridiculous outfits and awful language and atrocious facebook misspellings, do you worry that these are the leaders of tomorrow? I did  . . . and hopefully won't ever have reason to worry about that again after this weekend. The kids competing at the Intel Science Talent Search were all top-tier, impressive, amazing youth--driven, ambitious, talented, articulate, creative . . . I will gladly submit to their rule when they have conquered the world someday. Our future is in good hands.

The event was held at the National Geographic Society in downtown DC--such a cool place to visit and wander through. I wish I'd had a little more time to spend sightseeing in the city . . . there's so much to check out!

The place was absolutely packed with reporters, contestants, and just the general public visiting to, you know, meet our future world leaders, nobel prize-winning scientists of the future, etc. No biggie.

Once we were in, we had the chance to talk with and get to know the contestants, and have them explain their projects to us. Each one had conducted a high-level, in-depth research project, and it was incredible to hear about the work that had gone into them, the originality and creativity in their thinking and research methods, and even just learn about them as individuals. I don't think there was a single student there who didn't impress me with how well-rounded and mature they seemed. They aren't just science kids or math kids--they were all so talented and bright across the board, from science to music to athletics to community service. Really awesome kids.

So, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite projects from the Intel Science Talent Search:
This is Naomi . . . she did years of study on indoor air quality and lung funtion measurements, and even came up with a mathematical model and software application to quantify the impact of harmful pollutants found in indoor air.

She told me she was inspired to research this topic after watching family members suffer from year-round allergy symptoms that just didn't line up with traditional allergy seasons; she knew there must be something else going on, causing their symptoms and discomfort, apparent from the constant diagnosis of, 'it's just allergies.' Maybe someday, if we're breathing cleaner, better indoor air, we'll have her to thank!

I was also really intrigued by Raja Selvakumar's work . . . you're probably familiar with surgical robots that are used for stomach/intestinal surgeries, correct? Well, they run on lithium batteries, which can be a huge problem if they get loose in the body.

Never fear, Raja's got us covered. He's developing a fuel cell that can be used in these surgical nanorobots that is powered by your very own stomach bacteria. No battery required--just your own natural stomach acids and bacterias, powering a flipping robot. Amazing, right? (And talking with Raja was such a delight--he is so charming and funny. When he's not innovating fuel sources for nanorobots (!) he told me he is a black belt in martial arts and a major Jackie Chan fan. Amen, kid!)

And I can't leave out Sara Volz . . . she kind of laughed at me for wanting to take this picture, but can you see her earrings?

They're elements from the periodic table! I loved that the kids' creative sides shone through, even in picking their outfits. So many kids picked an accessory to represent their work, from a crayfish tie (worn by a young man who researched--and disproved--long-held ideas on crayfish habits) to star jewelry (worn by a young lady I'll get to in a minute here). Sara found ways to improve biofuel production made from . . . ready? . . . algae. I didn't even know that was a thing! Although algae can be used to create fuel, it hasn't been cost-effective in the past, and she figured out ways to increase the harvesting of algaes with high oil content and increase overall growth. So if a few years from now, you're filling up your car with fuel made from algae . . . think of Sara here!

Undoubtedly, a huge highlight of the event was running into a contestant from my own high school! Samantha Scibelli is a senior at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, where I graduated from however many years ago.

And let me tell you, we are not talking about a big high school in a high-population city here. Small-town, rural New York with a relatively small high school. So it was really exciting to see someone there from BH-BL! Go Samantha! (She's the one who wore star earrings . . . to match her study and classification of thousands of previously miscategorized stars!)

And even more exciting was running into this lady here . . .

My own high school chemistry teacher from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake high school! I'm glad she finally got a stellar student in Samantha who could show off her teaching skills in a large scale like the talent search . . . because she certainly didn't get that with me. It was so fun to run into her there with Samantha and catch up. I tell ya, I think the only reason I loved (and passed!) chemistry that year was because Mrs. Reals was such a fun teacher, not because I have any deep love for chemistry.

All in all, it was such a fun event to attend. I loved seeing all the kids' ingenuity and creativity--from biological studies to researching and improving cancer diagnosis/treatment to more everyday concerns like air quality and chemicals used in dry cleaning, they tackled a huge variety of topics and, I have no doubt, will make a huge impact on the scientific world someday. The winners of the Intel Science Talent Search will be announced on Tuesday, and I can't wait to see who will be winning those huge awards! I think our future is in great hands . . . no more worrying about Bieber fanatics and, ahem, creative spelling choices from today's teens--I'm just trusting these very talented Intel Science Talent Search kids to be the frontrunners of the future.
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  1. I loved this post because it has both of my "homes" in it! I lived in DC for many years and then am back now in upstate NY (not far from Ballston Spa). I embarrassed to tell you, though, that I tend to look at all of the photos in a blog post first (I use a blog reader) and then go back to read the content. And because I am in a reader I don't always know which blog I'm glancing at at first. So my first thought when I scanned through and saw the picture of you with your old teacher was "Wow! This blogger met the writer of Maybe Matilda!"

    Um, yeah. It's YOUR blog and you most certainly did not meet yourself. :) But for a minute I did grant you celebrity status. Just thought you'd like to know, even if it DOES make me look like a dork. :)


  2. And here I am having trouble resetting the clock in my car for daylight savings time. I guess it's a good thing I don't have ambitions to lead anything more important than a sewing along, cuz' we'd totally be screwed!

  3. Youths. I'm happy to hear things will be okay in the future.

    I love that you got to see your high school science teacher!

  4. How do these kids come up with this stuff? Amazing.

    I already told you this-- but I still think it's way cool a kid from your high school was in the competition. It's like you were meant to attend this event.

  5. Yay! This looks so awesome. What an inspirational trip. It's just amazing what they are accomplishing while I blog in my pajamas. ;)


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