Today was that one day a year when I take off from work and go help the emerging generation by serving as a judge at the California State Science Fair. This year, yet again, I was the judge for the Junior (6-8 grade) Math and Software Panel. A few observations:
- For the first year in a long time: not a single project calculating π, and not a single “Monty Hall Problem”. We still, though, got two projects related to sports.
- Perhaps mirroring society, we’re getting more and more projects where the emphasis is on the software, not the math.
- Perhaps mirroring society yet again, we’re getting more and more software projects where the students role is integrating pre-existing pieces, as opposed to developing code from scratch.
- So what were the hot trends this year: use of Arduino boards, Lego Mindstorm, and programming in Python, Java, and Excel.
- This year I was much more annoyed by the crowding and interruptions of the interviews, and how the special category judges always seem to be talking to the person I needed to talk to next. Boos to the ScienCenter person who interrupted an interview to tell me I couldn’t sit my closed, sealed iced-tea on the table; I had to balance it with everything else I was carrying.
A few comments on the projects themselves:
- Our first place project was an effort that augmented a child car seat with sensor to detect when a child was in a seat, and left in a car that was too hot, texting the parents. I could see this is a great IOT project, with manufacturers integrating it into a car seat.
- Our second place was a young lady who developed a system to show elements in the periodic table to those visually impared. This 6th grader really knew her stuff about chemistry and programming.
- Third place was a fellow who analyzed images to count particle trails in a cloud chamber. He did a nice job of comparing adjacent frames to figure out the background and where the trail was.
- Fourth place was a young lady who analyzed a series of brain MRI to attempt to diagnose Altzheimers. Interesting notion.
- Another interesting project attempted to use the sound of wind chimes to generate random numbers. Her main problem was that she needed to do better bias removal (such as fan noise), and to get a proper randomness test (she chose χ-squared, simply because it was in the Java library).
What else did we have this year? Someone building an elevator in Minecraft. Two projects trying to program video games for the blind. Two projects dealing with autonomous cars (one navigating the maze, the other merging). One attempting to do text compression and storing the frequency library in the cloud. A fellow who programmed a calculator and got it into the Google store. Those were the ones that stuck in my mind.
In any case, quite an interesting day. Always fun.