January 20, 2012

Fermilab, LEGO launch science contest

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) will partner with Google, LEGO, Scientific American, National Geographic, and the CERN Laboratory this April for the second annual Google Science Fair, an international competition intended for students between the ages of 13 and 18.

The grand prize winner will receive hands-on experience at Fermilab, CERN, or Google, in addition to an expedition to the Galapagos Islands, a $50,000 Google scholarship, and a personalized LEGO set.

This year’s competition is open to submissions in 13 languages, an expansion from last year when only entries in English were considered, even though 10,000 students from more than 90 countries submitted proposals. All entrants must create online profiles using Google Sites to present their projects.

“The winner can see what we do and visit a number of research areas…play around if he or she wants and get a feeling for what research is,” Young-Kee Kim, Deputy Director of Fermilab, University physics professor, and member of this year’s judging panel, said.

Kim said that winning a regional science competition in middle school gave her the confidence to pursue particle physics, and she hopes that the Google Science Fair will similarly impact its participants.

“Many times you ask whether you can do it, or if you are good enough, or if it’s right for you; many questions come to you when you are young. Experiencing that competition gave me a lot of confidence, so when I see all these young people doing this, I think it is very incredible,” Kim said.

In July, 15 global finalists will be chosen from the online entries and flown to Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, for judgment. From there, winners will be chosen across three age brackets, before judges settle on a Grand Prize Winner.

Ultimately, Kim believes the Google Science Fair will nurture a love of science in young people around the world.

“There are perceptions that perhaps [science] is hard, or that only uncool people do it,” Kim said. “Science is not something that only a few people can do. Science is everywhere.”