Intel ISEF has just sent 1500+ kids home with their heads awhirl. Most are high school seniors and they are here from 48 states and 51 countries and territories. I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport and they are everywhere around me. Some are wearing their medals home, letting the world see the superstar they are, but most are back in everyday teenage camouflage.As I watched them file into Hall B4 of the Georgia World Congress Center this morning, I admired the touches of local culture in their attire – the red and white shawls and head scarves from Jordan, spiffy white military jackets covered with ribbons and medals worn by the young men from Peru, yarmulkes, head scarves, wobbly high heels and unaccustomed suits. Many of the kids from across the US also wore their representative native garb – blue jeans, sandals, shades… The work that these students presented was astounding. 20% had patents or patents pending on their work. Many projects would qualify asPhD theses. The kids from Brazil who have developed a commercial bread machine out of scavenged parts from old washing machines, and that produces bread at substantially lower cost, should certainly qualify. One of the students from India said he was not in school. Home schooled, you mean? No – I guess I’m pretty much self-taught. How did he get interested in science research, then? His brother – now a grad student at Stanford – had introduced him to the lab he was working in there in India. So your brother is much older than you, isn’t he? Just one year. Wait. How old IS your brother?? He’s 17. I’m planning to go to Berkeley next year, myself. Wow. It is amazing to meet these kids. It is pure fun to watch them come up onto the stage to be recognized for their work – some bounding up like big puppies, some in tears (Joy? Stress? Probably both…), some with quiet dignity. Some bow, some shake hands, some kiss one or both cheeks and some envelop the presenter with exuberant hugs. If you ever need a shot in the arm, and a reminder that the future of the planet may be in better hands than we think, volunteer at a science fair and see if you can weasel your way in as a chaperone for the winners heading to next year’s Intel ISEF in Reno or the 2010 fair in San Jose. I promise you’ll be able to live off the high for a good long while.
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