Today I went and judged a science fair. Yep, that's what I'm getting paid the big bucks to do. I went with two guys from the department and we did judging on third, fourth and fifth graders. I got the fifth graders. Unfortunately the judging was done in private and I couldn't ask the students questions which would have been very helpful. There were a few erupting volcanoes, a few paper airplane experiments testing the variables of either wingspan or paper material, a few consumer experiments testing the effectiveness of different brands of batteries, stain remover, kitty litter, etc. At first I didn't understand why the coordinator of this event needed three Ph.D. students to judge an elementary school science fair. When it came time to pick winners though it became clear. I chose two winners, between the two the coordinator could make the final call. The two were not flashy and not the most creative but were neat, systematic and thorough, and most of all practical. Hallmarks of a successful experiment and would have probably gotten funded if submitted to NSF.
After the judging, we were led to the second and thrid grade gifted science class where we participated in an hour long question and answer session. Some of the questions were hilarious, some very well thought out and some were total stumpers. Here is an excerpt from part of the interview.
Student: Do you study bugs?
Phys. 1: No.
Phys. 3: Well, I actually made holograms of bugs for my research a while back.
Teacher: Do you know what holograms are?
Class (nodding): Coooooool!
Student: Who's your favorite scientist?
Me: It's a tie between Albert Einstein and Marie Curie.
Phys. 3: Stephen Hawking.
Phys. 1: My boss.
Me: Suck up.
Student: Were you all in gifted classes when you were our age?
Phys. 1: Yes.
Phys. 3: No. I hated school.
Student: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Phys. 1: I wanted to drive a bulldozer.
Me: I wanted to be a veterinarian.
Girl student: Me too!!!
Phys. 3: I always wanted to be a physicist.
Teacher: Natalie, what made you not want to be a veterinarian and be a physicist instead?
Okay. I really took issue with this question. First, like most aspiring vets and probably like the girl in the class will figure out, I didn't want to euthanize animals. But I couldn't say that. Second, becoming a physicist isn't just like waking up one day when you're 9 (unless you're James) and saying I want to be a physicist. I didn't want to list my plethora of college majors. In the end I couldn't even decide so I got two bachelors.
Me: I didn't really want to do operations on animals.
Student: Who's your favorite president?
Phys. 1: Bill Clinton. He was the man.
Me: That's a heated question! Yeah, I'll go with Clinton. He gave scientists a lot of money to do research.
Phys. 3: Abe Lincoln. He freed the slaves.
Phys. 3 has obviously never read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.
Student: What's your favorite mythological creature?
That one was from left field.
Me: Pegasus was pretty cool.
He whipped out a book and showed me a picture of Pegasus.
Student: Can I show them this week's brain teaser?
Teacher: Sure! What a great idea!
Student, writing an equation on the white board: Using only ONE LINE, make this equation true.
One line means a single straight line anywhere, and it cannot be to put a slash through the "equal to" sign, making it a "not equal to" sign.
We couldn't get it. But you are more than welcome to try. Here it is:
5 + 5 + 5 = 550