Caleb and Cameron Kruse, alumni of the Society for Science & the Public’s science competitions, are traveling the country on an Ice Cream Exhibition designed to teach children about conservation. Caleb was an Intel STS 2010 semifinalist and Cameron was an Intel STS 2008 semifinalist and Intel ISEF 2007 finalist.
What was your experience participating in the Intel Science Talent Search or Intel International Science and Engineering Fair like?
Cameron: I qualified for Intel ISEF my junior year of high school, and won aThird Award in engineering for my project. Going to Intel ISEF was one of my most memorable experiences in high school. I was then a semifinalist in Intel STS my senior year.
Caleb: I started a research project my freshman year, at the same time my brother did, and also competed in regional and state fairs. I didn’t get the chance to go to Intel ISEF, but I was also a semifinalist in Intel STS my senior year. Science fairs were a huge part of preparing me to do research; they provided a timeline and inspiration to do a research project and were a formative part in why I got involved in science research.
Can you provide a short description of your research project(s) and how you initially became interested in this topic/science in general?
Caleb: I grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado and Germany. I had never been near the ocean, but became fascinated with coral and reefs after getting a saltwater aquarium for my birthday. It was a hobby of mine, but then I started to have questions that were unanswered. I decided to do experiments to find those answers. It didn’t start out as a science fair project; I was just doing some tests on coral tissue regeneration, and then I decided to enter it into the science fair. My project on the effect of vitamin C and antioxidants on coral health became not only a 3-year project in high school, but also spurred the subject of my honors thesis at college that won an award at Stanford for best undergraduate research project.
It started out simply, but developed into something more scientifically meaningful. I was originally working at home with a blender and jury-rigged equipment, but was able to expand on the initial finding further in college with more rigorous research. It inspired an interesting line of questioning, and it’s something that still interests me. I will apply to graduate school this year and am considering the same area of study for my PhD.
Cameron: Such a big part of my high school experience was working as a bat boy with the Colorado Rockies baseball team. Before each game, I had to take the shine off 60-80 balls so that the pitchers could use them. The rules state that to do this you have to rub each ball by hand with a special mud from the Delaware River. Because a small change in the amount of mud used can dramatically change how easy the ball was to hit, I decided to create a machine that could do this consistently.
I used the tools that I had readily available, so I made a machine using Lego Robotics. Science fair gave me a tool to communicate and share this specialized topic. I was passionate about creating this machine, but participating in science fairs also gave me the experience in how to present the machine that I created. I used my award money from Intel ISEF to move from Legos to a production level machine. I also won a summer internship from Agilent at Intel ISEF, where I built a verification test that could look at the color of the mudded baseballs to ensure that the machine was consistent. Intel ISEF and Intel STS were formative, incredible experiences that shaped my creative process.
Caleb: Cameron took his project to the commissioner of Major League Baseball, and even got a patent for the machine.
Can you tell us about the Ice Cream Expedition?
Caleb: The idea started about three years ago. I was talking to a friend about taking a road trip. Off-hand we came up with the idea to give away ice cream along the way. It would be an incredible and quintessentially American way to see the country. When entering a community, even as strangers, people would rush to an ice cream truck and we could start a conversation. I started talking to Cameron about this idea and in November 2013, we applied for a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant. In February, we received the grant, which gave the trip credibility and some funding.
Cameron: This idea was the first time I had figured out how to connect a couple of things I am really passionate about. The plan was to get a child’s perspective on the issue of conservation, using the ice cream truck as a tool to connect. We knew it would be a great way to start conversations in the community. During the grant application, we talked about how we were passionate about exploring and conservation, and planned to talk to kids about how to these two themes are connected.
Caleb: An explorer should be first and foremost a conservationist. For me, science is an exciting and important form of exploration. We wanted kids to know that their forms of exploration are valid. They have a duty as an explorer to look closely at the world around them and to be a steward of those places and things that they love. We talk about places with kids; places they have taken the time to explore, that they grow to love, and then want to protect.
The trip is a great way to see a snapshot of America. We hope to give out not only ice cream, but also to validate exploration and encourage kids to protect the world around them. We hope to inspire them to become stewards of places they explore.
What are you up to now?
Caleb: I just graduated from Stanford with a degree in earth systems focusing on the ocean; a version of a marine biology degree. I would love to be a professor eventually, but as of now, I took an unconventional route from college to driving an ice cream truck. This trip has been quite multifaceted. We started with an old delivery truck that we bought, and then converted it to serve ice cream. Cam even converted the truck to run on vegetable oil. It’s kind of funny for a couple of biologists to be deep into automotive mechanics.
Cameron: I had an unreasonable amount of confidence about my ability to convert the truck to run on vegetable oil, even though I had never even changed the oil in my own car. I had that confidence because of science fairs, Intel ISEF, and Intel STS.
I graduated from Pepperdine with a degree in biology, a different focus area than the engineering project I had worked on in high school. After graduation in 2012, I was awarded a Fulbright grant to study medicinal plants in India as an herbal alternative to mainstream HIV medications. I’m now working for 23andMe, a personal genetics company that analyzes a person’s DNA to find information about ancestry and health.
Caleb: We started the Ice Cream Expedition at the Birch Aquarium in San Diego on July 19. In addition to spontaneous ice-cream-fueled conversations, we worked with National Geographic Kids to create events in 16 cities where we talked with larger audiences in the community about exploration and conservation. Our route took us 8,600 miles, up the West Coast, into the Rocky Mountain west, Midwest, Texas and Deep South. From there, we headed up to Chicago, eastward to Washington DC, and finished in New York City on September 23.
Cameron: I’ve been blown away by the kids’ creativity. We have an ice cream party, but as part of that, the kids get to sign pledges with places they want to protect, something they will do to protect it, and a picture they drew of the place. We’ve collected more than 1,000 of these pledges and we love seeing the places they love to explore. It’s been interesting working with them and seeing how they respond to the message of explorers as conservationists.
Follow along with the Ice Cream Exhibition at theicecreamexpedition.com or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Do you have any advice for young students interested in science?
Caleb: Science fairs are a tremendous way to build a network to help with a research project and an incentive to keep going. Look at my path; doing research projects for science fairs was crucial in setting me on my path in biology. It got me into Stanford, and helped me once I was there.
Don’t look for a research project just to fit your class requirements. Instead, focus on what most interests you. Everyone has something they are fascinated by, and I guarantee that the topic has unanswered questions. That’s how my project came about. Just look around, thinking about how something could be improved, or searching for questions no one seems to be answering. Also, don’t be afraid to do research projects at home. I made a centrifuge out of a drill and test tubes, and gel electrophoresis out of Legos and 9v batteries. There are all kinds of creative ways to do high level research; don’t let a lack of equipment stop you.
Cameron: I want to emphasize the creative aspect of science. Sometimes scientists get a bad rap for being formulaic. In fact, I think science is the most creative endeavor out there. It requires every bit of creativity you have to even figure out how to test what you’re interested in. Kids entering science fairs are finding this out for the first time. If you aren’t inspired, find something else you’re interested in – creativity is the beauty of science.
Our tagline is: Go explore. Whether it’s a science research project or somewhere outside, we want to help people understand that an explorer is first and foremost a conservationist.