The XX Factor

Google’s Totally Non-Evil Science Fair

In Google’s online science fair, there are absolutely no baking-soda volcanoes or studies of the effects of rock vs. classical music on plant growth (yeah, it didn’t get a very good grade, either). Instead, there are 7,500 teenage scientists from 90 countries, all attempting to solve the world’s problems through science-and a $50,000 scholarship prize. Google posted the 60 semifinalists yesterday, and they are an impressive lot. There is research into modifying railroad switches . A portable solar autoclave to disinfect medical instruments . A possible treatment for prostate cancer -and that’s just from the 13-14 year olds.

Google’s judges will award scholarships and prizes, but voting is open until May 23 for the People’s Choice Award (a very impressive $10,000 scholarship itself). You can view a synopsis of the work of each semi-finalist and a link to his or her presentation here -or, better yet, you can put your kid to work choosing a project to vote for. There is nothing like seeing other kids get excited about a subject to inspire an interest, and I’m keenly aware that in a house where the primary interests are literature, politics and sports, our kids get a bit of a science short shrift. My excellent intentions to foster experimentation with at least kitchen science and seedlings too often end up being more about me than them, and I’d love it if the experimental impetus came from the more than once in a while. Of course, I say that, but I was not very supportive of last Friday’s “Do Pop Rocks Explode in Water?” suggestion. My kudos last week to the mother of environmental activist Alec Loorz was sincere. I sometimes suspect that if one of my kids did have a budding passion along those lines, my heavy sighs and refusal to run a chauffeur service or clean up the counters might be more than a little dampening. If an hour reading Google Science Fair entries results in inspiration, I’ll buy the Pop Rocks.