Sydney Bergman, 2010 SSP Fellow and biology teacher at School Without Walls in Washington, DC describes her experience as a first-time attendee of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) held May 13-18, 2012.
My first time attending the Intel ISEF was overwhelming and exciting - I knew that there were going to be a lot of people, but it didn't really sink in until we were there. It's a lot of people - finalists, student observers, teachers, fair coordinators, parents, sponsors, speakers, etc. It was exciting to see so many people who were excited about science!
What stuck out for me the most about the experience was how much the finalists were treated like rock stars. The message, which wasn't explicitly stated, but was heavily implied, is that science is profitable, cool, and communication-driven. I really liked the ceremonies surrounding large events, such as the Excellence in Science and Technology Panel (with Nobel laureates) and the opening ceremony. It made my students feel honored. I had two students from my research class who were finalists, one competing in Animal Sciences, and the other in Environmental Management. They had an absolute blast!
I would tell other first-time attendees of Intel ISEF to wear comfortable shoes and bring snacks/water! Being aware of the size of the convention center that Intel ISEF is in, and taking into account how long the days are is important. Also, it seems silly, but scheduling lots of time to go around the project floor and talk to students was really wonderful. I got to hear about projects from all over the world, and talk to students doing some amazing research. Doing that several times over the course of the week was helpful - trying to do it all in one go would be exhausting.
I definitely came back from Intel ISEF inspired! I loved the elegance of some of the projects. Many had neat concepts that had been really thoughtfully executed, some without heavy use of fancy lab equipment or research institutions. That for me was the inspiration - how much science can be done without fancy 'toys.' I love my lab equipment (much of which my grant from SSP has paid for!), but I also loved seeing what students were able to do with a range of supplies available.