Google searching for the world's next top scientists

by Michael Price
Thursday, January 5, 2012

The old baking soda volcano probably won't get you very close to the blue ribbon in Google's Global Science Fair 2011. The fair, a first for Google, will judge and showcase the work of thousands of students ages 13 to 18 from more than 120 countries in 11 categories, including earth and environmental sciences and energy and space. The aim is to spark creativity and scientific exploration among students.

“Google as a company was founded through experimentation and we hope to encourage that same behavior amongst the next generation of scientists and engineers,” says Google spokesperson Kat Eller.

Students around the world who wish to participate must first register for the fair using a Google account at the fair's website. Working alone or in groups of two or three, participants must create a project page detailing the aims of their experiment and cataloging their progress through the scientific method — hypotheses, research summaries, experimental design and testing. The project sites can feature photos and YouTube videos to help demonstrate the work.

Students must submit their experiments by April 4, after which a volunteer panel of science teachers from around the world will evaluate them and narrow the field to 60 semifinalists. Google's own judging panel — consisting of scientific luminaries such as Director-General of CERN Rolf-Dieter Heuer, inventor Dean Kamen of Segway fame, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Kary Mullis and Scientific American Editor-in-Chief Mariette DiChristina — will further narrow the contestants down to 15 finalists. Google will then fly the finalists to Google Headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., where the panel will select a grand prize winner in July.

The grand prize includes an all-expenses-paid 10-day National Geographic expedition to the Galapagos Islands and a $50,000 scholarship. Finalists from different age brackets will each receive $25,000 scholarships.

Google hopes the contest will foster an interest in science that will help the next generation of thinkers tackle world challenges such as environmental degradation and energy shortfalls. Google's fair is the second high-profile science fair hosted by a technology company, after Intel began sponsoring the International Science and Engineering Fair in 1997. Whereas Google's science fair is Internet-based, participants in Intel's contest display their findings with poster boards at actual live science fairs. Google hopes the online aspect of its science fair will promote more international engagement, Eller says.

“By creating a large competition where students can get immersed in science and have the opportunity to share their projects with people around the world, we believe that students' interest in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] will increase,” Eller says. That, she says, will hopefully encourage “budding scientists all over the world to help solve current and future world issues including climate change and energy usage.”

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