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Inside the Maine State Science Fair, A Celebration of Student Innovation

Inside the Maine State Science Fair, A Celebration of Student Innovation

Inside the grand ballroom of the Cross Insurance Center its presence was unavoidable. Rows of students, nearly 150 in total, stood proudly next to their displays, throngs of people crowding the ballroom to visit each booth and speak to their student creators.

“The goal of the fair is to celebrate student innovations in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

Michael McKernan, Program Director for STEM and Undergraduate Education at the Jackson Lab, is one of the primary organizers of the Maine State Science Festival, an annual event that showcases the work of Maine High School students who are encouraged to pursue their passions in science, technology, engineering, math, and computer sciences.

“We welcome high school projects in a large variety of science and engineering disciplines including biological sciences, environmental sciences, physics, mathematics, forestry and natural resources, software and computer engineering, astronomy, energy, even studies of human behavior and psychology. The possibilities are nearly endless. Some projects are very advanced and include student research that was done in an academic or industrial research settings; other projects are elegant in their simplicity and can be done in the home or school environment.”

But these projects are not your baking soda in the Papier-mâché Volcano. The participants of the MSSF are pushing the limits and showing the depth of talent that exists among young Maine students. “One of our top projects from 2015 was an environmental water monitoring project that was done entirely in the home and resulted in the student advancing to the national competition where she won a full tuition college scholarship.”

If McKernan seems proud, he has good reason. The Jackson Laboratory took over full sponsorship of the MSSF in 2011 and formally affiliated the event with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2012. This was significant because the affiliation allowed Maine students to compete on a national level, and they have been very successful. The Intel ISEF is a huge, international event and Maine has been ‘small but mighty’ according to McKernan. Several Mainers have been awarded prizes at the international competition, including all three projects who attended last year.

The Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance joined as a co-sponsor of the Science Fair in 2015. Together, JAX and MMSA believe that student scientists and engineers need a venue where their ideas and projects can be discussed and their hard work celebrated and rewarded. In a continued effort to see the event grow, JAX and the MMSA partnered with the Maine Science Festival, to host the event at the Cross Center in 2015 as part of the Science Festival’s inaugural year.

“The MSF has been an extremely important collaboration for the Science Fair,” said McKernan. “First, we are both passionate about increasing participation in science – children, students, parents, schools, everyone – and demystifying science. Taking it out of the lab and to the Cross Center and the theatre and the restaurants. It should be all around us. Second, partnering with MSF allowed our students a much larger venue to discuss their research. They were surrounded by thousands of curious and engaged minds; likewise, it was great to shine a spotlight on some of Maine’s outstanding, curious, and innovative student researchers and problem solvers. MSF has helped increase interest in the science fair and I hope that we have done the same for the festival.”

Maine Science Festival Director Kate Dickerson agrees. Being able to include the Science Fair as part of the MSF was a major part of reinforcing the festival’s mission and message. “When there are student projects that include things like modeling drone swarms, growing kidneys from skin cells, designing airfoils, and figuring out how long it takes chlorinated water to eat through a swim suit, it really helps festival goers see that science is all around us — and that there are a lot of innovative students in Maine who can use science to help transform our state and our nation.”

If you are a High School student in Maine (grades 9-12), the MSSF takes around 150 students either working themselves or on teams of up to three participants. They welcome new participants from any school in Maine, including home schooled students. Teams are welcome. You can learn more by visiting the JAX website.

The Project registration deadline is Friday, February 5, 2016 and you can attend the Maine State Science Fair on Saturday, March 19, 2016 as part of the 2016 Maine Science Festival at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine.

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