We're heading for the home stretch of the school year, and it's time to get really serious about those science fair projects. If you're a student at the O'Brient High School for Math and Science in Boston, you've already been hard at work on your project for months. In fact, every student at the O'Brient is required to participate in the school's science fair. They're all asked to develop a project that addresses and tries to find a cheap, viable solution to a real problem in their immediate communities or in developing countries. Last year, for example, several students who lived in a part of the city with fish-processing plants were in search of the most effective, least expensive way to remove the odor of fish from the skin and clothes of the workers in the plants. Another team of students had developed a series of photo-electric panels for the high school, with the intent of one day using solar power (even in Boston!) to generate at least part of the school's energy needs. Another student ran an experiment to find the best cookstoves to use in third world countries -- a pressing problem since, she discovered, globally 1.6 million children die each year of smoke inhalation from cooking devices.
Last year, too, one of the O'Brient students won the state science fair competition with his design for an inexpensive electronic device that can be used with a weather balloon in developing countries to forecast the weather. We talked with a student who was born in Nigeria, and wants to return to Africa with a medical degree and open health clinics there. She had witnessed first hand the lack of health care facilities on a recent visit to Nigeria, when her brother contracted malaria there -- an experience that galvanized her career decision. Many of her classmates expressed similar hopes of taking what they might one day learn and develop as future scientists, engineers, and physicians back to their communities in order to help there in some meaningful ways. For many of these students, science is a way, quite literally, to help change the world. You could tell by the lights that had already gone on in their faces that these were not mere platitudes for them. I can't wait to hear what the students will come up with this year. But even more impressive than the projects are the students themselves, and I can't wait to learn what they come up with in their lives.
Copyright 2006© John Cech
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