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Questions regarding science fair/talent projects?

  1. Mar 13, 2013 #1
    I recently read an article about a science fair that raised a lot of questions for me. The article discussed the projects of the high school students who had placed in the fair. These students had achieved some amazing feats in their projects, and half of the projects have terminology in them that I am not even familiar with (currently freshman year in college as a physics major). It was quite intimidating to see these students, ages varying from 15-17, who were literally revolutionizing sub-fields of the sciences.

    I wonder, does anyone know how these high school students are able to do these things? Some of the material seems to incorporate high-level calculus and other material that I will probably not even see myself until I get through my basic prerequisites. I did notice from three of the bios I looked at that one or both of the parents of the student was a scientist. Considering those parents can assist their child to help them get their foot in the door makes sense, but some of them seemed to come from families where they didn't seem to even have enough to afford any special tutoring, let alone have them work under a professional scientist/researcher.

    I know there are prodigies in the world, but how can they cover so much material at such a young age? Even a prodigy would have a difficult time soaking up all that is necessary to be able to do some of those science projects. I'm just at a loss as to the stories behind these individuals?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 13, 2013 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    That's possible, but quite unlikely ... do you have a reference?
    As a college student you should get used to citing your sources when you mention them so others can see for themselves. Also saves typing ;)
    They have a lot of help.
    Use of jargon, for example, is as likely copied from their reference materials as understood. People who don't understand their topic often sound technical as a way of hiding this fact.
    Again - really need the reference - there is often some room for doubt that a science fair project is the student's sole and original work (it doesn't have to be). Non-technical homeplace is no longer the barrier it used to be (though it is still tough) since technical sources abound. If they are entering at all, then they are scientifically and/or technologically minded to begin with and prodigies can come from any background.
    Bear in mind that these are just that: stories. The journalist may have been cherry-picking and hyping the abilities and acheivements. It could also be that this was a state level or national level science fair? In that case, the projects are the best from literally millions of entries - the vast majority being humdrum.

    Having taught a few prodigies before - it is pretty amazing what they can soak up in the short time available to them :)
  4. Mar 14, 2013 #3
    Well, as far as the information I initially looked at that made me decide to look into it further, it was this here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/12/s...-receives-100000-intel-first-prize.html?_r=1&

    This here was the information that showed me a ton of terminology that had me at a loss: http://apps.societyforscience.org/sts/71sts/finalists.asp [Broken]

    Anyway, the more that I'm looking into this, the more it seems that the children's parents are typically wealthy and can afford special tutoring, spare time to help them personally, etc. Don't get me wrong, I'm not downplaying their achievements in the least. However, it does seem that many of the students are given an advantage that the average income family simply does not have.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  5. Mar 14, 2013 #4

    Simon Bridge

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    That would be correct, yes.

    Similarly - the athlete supported by sponsorship, so training can be full time, is more likely to do well than one who must work as well... basically rich people are in a better position to take advantage of the opportunities that they encounter.

    That Intel Science Talent Search 2012 Finalists is a national-level final and the list is the top 40 out of the whole USA who entered. You would expect that level of entry considering you are looking at the extreme end of the distribution.

    The NYT story covers the Intel prize. What you are looking at is the effect of very big numbers. The top 40 out of, say, New Zealand, wouldn't be anything like that since we only have about 4 million people to start with.
  6. Mar 14, 2013 #5
    If you take the top handful of students from most countries, you get a pretty similar quality of ability across the board. Having been one of these students and knowing many other students who did this, it's worth mentioning that most of these students spend more time on their science fair projects than they do on school. So, if you start young, and have a very focused area of interest, then it's not too unimaginable to learn fairly advanced stuff at a young age.

    All that said, when you look at media articles about this stuff, they -always- sensationalize it. I mean, who doesn't like a story about some genius scientist kid, right? Not to devalue the work in any way, but these projects can get blown out of proportion when you read the news articles about them.
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