Forty of the top science students in the country have been in D.C. explaining, dissecting and defending projects that have won them the coveted title of finalists in the annual Intel Science Talent Search. Their work is brilliant, if sometimes baffling, and an antidote to any general pessimism about this next generation.
The top winner will be announced Tuesday at a National Building Museum gala. To make it this far is a tough feat. The group has been whittled down from 1,839, the highest number of applicants ever.
Frederic Koehler, 18, attends Montgomery Blair High School and designed a computer science project to improve processing speeds.
Ari Dyckovsky, 17, attends Loudoun County Academy of Science and created a new theoretical approach to information transmission that involves — really — teleportation.
Dyckovsky’s mother told The Post’s Caitlin Gibson last week that Dyckovsky inherited a love of math and science from his father, who used to play math games with his son during car trips.
Dyckovsky’s father died suddenly of a heart attack when the boy was only 9. It set him adrift for years, until teachers later recognized and rekindled his talents.
Dyckovsky and the other finalists are, of course, exceptional. Even for them, though, a love of math and science, and more broadly, learning, is furthered by an encouraging parent, teacher or mentor.
I asked Wendy Hawkins, director of the Intel Foundation, about this year’s crop of finalists and how a parent can encourage a love of scientific discovery. Here’s our Q & A:
How is this year’s crop of finalists different from previous years?
What we see every year, and this year in particular, is that the finalists are incredibly accomplished — the brightest young minds in this country — and not only in the classroom or the laboratory. For example, this year, one finalist is a professional magician. Another became the first female volunteer firefighter in her county after watching her house burn down at the age of 13. (This experience also inspired her science competition research project around flame retardant polymers.) Still others have founded organizations with admirable missions, such as a non-profit organization that helps immigrant children learn to spell. And one young man is already an entrepreneur, with a company that has earned $30,000.
Has there been a difference overall in the types of research the students focus on? Or a different approach to problems?
This year’s finalists … are tackling such topics as breast cancer, water conservation, alternative energy and land mine detection, often in ways others have not explored before.
It’s worth noting that this year a new project category — bioengineering — has been added to the competition. Our science competition evaluators saw enough bioengineering project submissions to make it a new category and this year, we have two finalists with projects in this category.
Any tips for parents on how to encourage a love of science in their children?
Robotics clubs and maker fairs are a great introduction to science, math and engineering for kids as young as elementary school. Books and television shows that showcase the opportunities in the fields of math, engineering and science can inspire children of all ages. Science museums often offer classes and camps that encourage and teach.
Friends and family who work in the field can be a great resource. Have your child interview a scientist or an engineer, shadow them for a day of work or ask an engineer to advise and mentor them as they prepare a project to enter in their local science and engineering fair.
Do you have a future science or technology star? How did you expose them to the sciences and encourage them?