Editor's note: This article was originally posted on Brookhaven National Laboratory's website.
Imagine your kindergarten self, telling grown-up scientists and engineers that you asked a question like "Is spaghetti stronger after it's cooked?" That you guessed cooked spaghetti would hold more weight than dry spaghetti, because it's stretchy. And that you did an experiment, with help, to figure out whether you guessed correctly. Those scientists and engineers were very interested in your work. MAYBE you'd win a medal—not specifically for guessing right, but for how you achieved the answer to your question.
"BC" (before coronavirus), more than 500 elementary school students from kindergarten to the sixth grade had similar experiences at the Elementary School Science Fair, hosted annually by the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory. With schools closed and Brookhaven Lab's site mostly inaccessible to limit the spread of COVID-19, the Laboratory's Office of Educational Programs (OEP) is holding the 2020 science fair virtually.
This year, OEP staff also expanded the fair with a new “Science Share” program. Some students couldn't qualify for the Lab's science fair, because of pandemic-related school closures. Science Share gives them an opportunity to stay connected with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)—as well as the ability to show off their projects and problem-solving skills.
Quickly Helping Include More Students
"Because of the pandemic and closures, some schools couldn't hold their own local science competitions, which meant their students couldn't advance to the Lab's science fair. We created Science Share in only a few weeks to include more students. The projects we've seen are incredible," said Amanda Horn, a Brookhaven Lab educator who is coordinating both the science fair and Science Share. "Encouraging the STEM workforce of tomorrow is so important. The last thing we'd ever want to do is turn away students who finished science and engineering projects."
The response from students and their parents has been positive. Horn and her OEP colleagues received more than 45 projects from students representing 16 elementary schools for Science Share. They will receive digital certificates for participating. Students from 38 elementary schools submitted a total 129 projects for the regular science fair.
"My daughter is so excited and proud of her work. Her jaw almost hit the ground when I told her that I was in contact with Brookhaven National Laboratory to show her project," said Nicole Gaeta. Her daughter, Celia, did an experiment to find out whether produce—lettuce and apples, specifically—had less bacteria after being washed. Her project is featured in Science Share. Celia is a first grader at Miller Avenue Elementary School in the Shoreham-Wading River School District.
Both Science Share and the science fair were open to students of Suffolk County, New York, in kindergarten up to the sixth grade. Unlike the science fair, Science Share is a "virtual display"—not a competition. It was announced on OEP's science fair website and emails were sent to teachers who coordinate science fair projects on their schools' behalf. The deadline to submit was June 5.
Connecting Students with Science, Despite a Pandemic
In recent months Brookhaven's OEP staff created several opportunities for students to continue learning about STEM in addition to hosting Science Share and the science fair virtually. They launched the "Science at Home" website with STEM challenges, lessons, and videos. They worked closely with DOE leadership and Brookhaven's network of mentors to find ways for interns to participate in summer projects remotely. They also hosted the annual bridge-building contest virtually.
About Brookhaven Lab
Brookhaven National Laboratory delivers discovery science and transformative technology to power and secure the nation’s future. Brookhaven Lab is a multidisciplinary laboratory with seven Nobel Prize-winning discoveries, 37 R&D 100 Awards, and more than 70 years of pioneering research. Learn more about Brookhaven Lab.
Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit /science/.