Welcome to my lab bench. Hopefully, my editorial antics here and in future installments will inform and entertain as well as provoke some controversy and insight. I’ll be taking this opportunity to rant about my favorite subjects as well as technical topics that are hot—or not. And, I’ll highlight some of the technology I come across in the hands-on projects and evaluations I do for my EiED Online column.
Right now, though, I want to step onto the soapbox to shout about something that is near and dear to me—education, or more specifically, inspiration and support for future scientists and engineers. Readers of my Embedded in Electronic Design (EiED) articles may recall my periodic calls to arms for support of science fairs and other programs like FIRST Robotics.
Typical responses to these columns are very positive, echoing support and relating tales of participation. Yet these responses are in stark contrast to the support these efforts receive. In many cases, local programs seem like a well-kept secret.
For a little background, I’m also the president of the Mercer Science and Engineering Club, which hosts the annual Mercer Science and Engineering Fair at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J. A relatively small cadre of volunteers works hard so almost 500 students can participate.
The grand-prize winner attends the annual Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). And while we’re lucky enough to have some great corporate sponsors and a host of local judges, we always seem to need more. Drop me a note if you’re in the area.
Don’t think the projects you’ll judge will be fruit batteries or baking-soda volcanoes. One of our winners researched nanoparticle creation using plasmas. A significant number of ISEF participants apply for patents. This type of effort deserves feedback and support.
We also have a number of FIRST Robotics teams in our area. Whereas the science fairs spotlight individual achievement, FIRST is a team endeavor. If my entreaty doesn’t rouse you to participate in a competition near you, check out some of our Engineering TV episodes about FIRST Robotics, available online at www.engineeringTV.com.
The episodes with Woodie Flowers, the Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will particularly remind you of why you got interested in engineering and why hands-on science is so important. But the participation of individuals like you is only part of the issue.
Corporate sponsorship is another. Too many corporate sponsorships simply highlight the company name in feelgood events for the community. Such programs often target many worthwhile charities, but efforts such as science fairs and FIRST Robotics are overlooked. A suggestion from a company’s engineering or IT department to give educational programs a try can make a difference.
Monetary support is nice, but time is equally important. The judges at our fair only need half a day off to help us out. Yet our pool of possible judges is smaller because judges cannot be related to fair participants. And unfortunately, many organizations are inflexible about time off for volunteer work unless motivated individuals raise corporate awareness.
So, I’d like to thank everyone who takes part in any programs that help our young people get their hands dirty with some real work as they learn about science and engineering. You know what it means to help kids find the joys of discovery. If you’ve been inspired to help, we’ll see you at the fair.Society for Science and the Public Youth Sciences Foundation of Canada Canada-Wide Science Fair