STEM Awards

NSF Elementary Science Competition Announces Winners

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced the national winners of its second Kids' Science Challenge, an annual competition open to students in grades 3 through 6 designed to inspire scientific curiosity in young minds. More than 1,600 students from throughout the United States submitted experiments and problems for a panel of scientists and engineers to solve, and the winners will join the panelists to bring their proposals to fruition.

"In our first year, we had 770 entries, so we are very gratified that interest in this program is growing," said Jim Metzner, producer of the Pulse of the Planet radio series and creator of the Challenge. "We feel extremely lucky to have a great group of scientists and engineers working in areas that immediately appealed to kids. We were impressed by the caliber of the entries, and the scientists are really excited about collaborating with the winning students to work on the questions and challenges they've raised."

NSF announced winners March 31 in the three Challenge categories: Bio-Inspired Designs, Detective Science, and Sports on Mars. The winning students will meet with the designated panelists for their respective categories in April and May in the scientists' labs and workshops, as well as in the field, to work on turning their submissions into real-world scientific investigations.

Olivia Smith Donovan, a fourth-grader at Claymont Elementary School in Claymont, DE, is the winner in the Bio-Inspired Designs category for her inquiry into the descent of "helicopter" seeds from immense maple trees and its potential adaptability to dropping emergency parcels, as well as human beings, from great heights. She will work with Christopher Viney, professor of engineering at the University of California, Merced, as well as engineers at the University of Maryland, to explore the potential for practical applications of her idea.

In the Detective Science category, winning sixth-graders Caitlyn Taylor and Mason Wonka of Storm Grove Middle School in Vero Beach, FL, will work with earth science professor Don Siegel and a team of environmental scientists and forensic investigators at Syracuse University to investigate possible methods of protecting their state's coastal coral reefs from damage caused by dredging operations.

And for envisioning a game he calls Magnetic Soil Ball, fifth-grader Tyrone Hutchinson II of Lyons Elementary in Lyons, NY, won the Sports on Mars category. His game, which involves a ball and soil that are magnetized, could theoretically be played by two teams of astronauts on the surface of the planet Mars. Tyrone will work with the renowned scientists and engineers of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, CA, to develop a working simulation of his game.

"The Kids' Science Challenge offers an innovative model that lets children pose research questions and suggest experiments to be conducted by real scientists and engineers," said Sandra Welch, director of the informal science education program at NSF. "Integrating traditional and new media--including science radio broadcasts, podcasts, and blogs--to engage kids in science challenges will help guide other educational efforts in the future."

The winners and panelists will also be featured on the Pulse of the Planet radio show, and on podcasts at the show's Web site.

About the Author

Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.