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Think Beyond: 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)

Every year, approximately 1,800 high school students hailing from more than 75 countries, regions, and territories arrive at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF).  ISEF, a program of Society for Science & the Public (the Society), is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. Students are given the opportunity to present their independent scientific research and compete for $4 million in prizes.

Anyone who’s been to ISEF knows that it’s not the $4 million in prizes that you look forward to. Of course, the prizes are pretty sweet, but, as cheesy as it sounds, the actual ISEF experience is an invaluable gem in a high school student’s academic career. As a two-time Intel ISEF finalist and Broadcom MASTERS alumni, I’m no stranger to the Society’s programs. And I can tell you, with absolute confidence, that the week-long ISEF competition is something else. Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?

Millions of students all around the globe compete annually in local and school-sponsored science fairs. The winners of these events move on to compete in Society-affiliated regional and state fairs; the best projects at these levels are given the chance to participate in Intel ISEF.

ISEF is hosted in a different city each year. Starting in 2011, the host cities alternated from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh to Phoenix; this arrangement lasts until 2019. I’ve been blessed to compete at last year’s ISEF which was held in Phoenix, Arizona, as well as this year’s ISEF which was held in Los Angeles, California.

On Sunday, May 14, I, along with the Georgia State ISEF delegation, landed in LA, ready and excited for an awesome week filled with scientific adventures. The first order of business was to drop off and set up projects. After that, the Sunday was completely ours- we decided to visit the Intel Quad. The Intel Quad is always an exciting, energetic piece of ISEF. This year, it featured a “VR (Virtual Reality) Playground” that contained several of the latest VR headsets on the market. Other fun stations that allow you to create Scribble Bots (simple circuit driven robots with attached markers), design your own vinyl stickers and design a Rube Goldberg machine are also present. We then head to the Student Pin Exchange, an icebreaker event for finalists and student observers to trade pins and make new friends from all over the world.

On Monday, my delegation decided to spend most of the day exploring California. We visited the Santa Monica pier and had an excellent outing there. We returned to the convention center in the evening to attend the Opening Ceremony, one of the key ISEF experiences. This year, the ceremony was hosted by Dr. Derek Muller, physicist, filmmaker, and founder of Veritasium. The keynote speaker was Dr. Manu Prakash, head of the Prakash Lab at Stanford University. Dr. Prakash gave a riveting speech on his research, which focuses on finding innovative technological solutions to problems in global health.

Much of Tuesday was spent exploring Los Angeles and Hollywood. The Intel ISEF Alumni Entrepreneur Panel and Excellence in Science and Technology Panel with Nobel laureates and other scientific prize winners were also held on Tuesday. After these were the Student/Observer Mixer Event for which three options were open to students: Club Novo, Target Terrace, and the Grammy Museum.

Finally, competition day arrived. Competitors spent most of Wednesday at their respective posters being interviewed by experts in their field. Needless to say, it is an exhausting process. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel- after interviews, all ISEF attendants were able to visit and enjoy Universal Studios at no cost at all. For many ISEF participants, repeatedly getting on the Harry Potter rides was the highlight of their ISEF experience.

The first part of Thursday was the Public Visitation Day and the second part was the first moment that we were all waiting for- the Special Awards Ceremony. Hundreds of prizes were given away that night by Special Award organizations, academic institutions, and government agencies. And at last came Friday and the Grand Awards Ceremony where winners from each category, as well as the top overall winners, were announced.

Now that the recap of the 2017 Intel ISEF is over, you might be asking why all of this is important; how is it significant and/or beneficial to you? Intel ISEF unites top young scientific minds, showcasing our talents on an international platform. Our research is reviewed and judged by doctoral level scientists who are experts in our respective fields. We are able to meet students with similar interests and passions not just from the United States but those all around the world. During this week-long celebration of science, we are able to envision the future and think beyond.

Intel ISEF is a priceless opportunity that every young scientist could reap countless benefits out of. With that in mind, I hope that many of the high school scientists reading this article will be at the 2018 Intel ISEF in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania!

To get more information on the Intel Science and Engineering Fair and to read about recent winners, click here.

Image can be found here.


Editor: Mendy Lee