White House honors exceptional student scientists in sixth and final Science Fair

Extraordinary student scientists from across the United States are coming to the White House for the Obama administration’s sixth and final science fair. This year’s cohort of student scientists share creative solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges, such as 17-year-old Olivia Hallisey’s award-winning Ebola diagnostic test, which doesn’t rely on a cold chain, to nine-year-old Jacob Leggette, whose entrepreneurial spirit connected him with 3D printers, which he has used to manufacture toys and games. Meet all the participants in the White House Science Fair here.

While the student scientists exhibiting their work at the Sixth Annual White House Science Fair span grades K-12 and come from many different backgrounds and hometowns across the U.S., the average student does not have access to the resources and mentorship to make these projects possible. In 2013, the PLOS SciEd Blog took a critical look at top-tier student science fairs and questions whether these competitions recognize talent or privilege. An excerpt from the post is included below:

The room is crowded with row after row of trifold poster boards and judges squinting and taking notes. Among the posters illustrating the effects of soil character on worm health, or the effectiveness of hand sanitizer, I see a project on amino acid substitution due to missense mutations. I’m judging the middle school division, but this project is at the level of a high school or even college student. When it comes time to decide the winners, I battle the other judges who favor complex project topics over soundness of experimental design. The owner of the missense mutation project had access to resources and connections not shared by the students testing soil and hand-sanitizer. There are clearly two project tiers within the competition, and they aren’t separated by scientific understanding, but by access to the professional scientific world. If the mutation project wins over soil character, does it mean we are punishing students who don’t have pre-existing science connections?

Science fairs: rewarding talent or privilege? by Erin Salter.

The White House Science Fair starts at 1pm EST. Watch a live stream on the White House website and follow along on social media at #WHScienceFair!

Photo courtesy of the White House, taken at 2010 Science Fair. October 18, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).

Author: Mike Klymkowsky

I am a Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado Boulder. Growing up in Pennsylvania, I earned a bachelors degree in biophysics from Penn State then moved to California and earned a Ph.D. from CalTech (working for a time at UCSF and the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic). I was a Muscular Dystrophy Association post-doctoral fellow at University College London and the Rockefeller University before moving to Boulder. My research has involved a number of topics, including neurotransmitter receptor structure, cytoskeletal organization and ciliary function, neural crest formation, and signaling systems in the context of the clawed frog Xenopus laevis as well as biology education research, leading to the development of the Biological Concepts Instrument (BCI), a suite of virtuallaboratory activities, and biofundamentals, a re-designed introductory molecular biology course. I have a close collaboration with Melanie Cooper (@Michigan State) that has resulted in transformed (and demonstrably effective and engaging) course materials in general and organic chemistry known as CLUE: Chemistry, Life, the Universe & Everything. I was in the first class of Pew Biomedical Scholars and am a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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