Science Fair Season
Ask most teenagers to name a path
to fame and fortune, and basketball
or Justin Bieber will likely come up.
But for a select few, there’s one clear
answer: science fair. Millions of dollars in prize money, TV interviews and
trips to the White House await today’s
winners, and Dutton gives a glimpse
behind the poster boards of 12 kids
vying for the nation’s top honors.
Every year, more than 1,500 high
schoolers from around the world convene for the science fair Super Bowl,
the Intel International Science and
Engineering Fair, a program of Society for Science & the Public, which
also publishes Science News. Dutton
tells the stories of seven contestants in
Intel ISEF 2009, plus five competitors
from previous years whose stories have
become the stuff of science fair legend.
Among them are Kelydra Welcker,
whose work on chemical contaminants
in her West Virginia hometown landed
her on an FBI terrorist watch list, and
The New Cool
With seconds on the clock, a nervous
high school senior named Kevin lines
up the shot. He presses a button, and
half a dozen balls fly through the air. The
D’Penguineers win; the crowd goes wild.
In his latest book, Bascomb makes the
case that high school robotics competi-
tions can be every bit as cool as sports.
He chronicles the daily dramas of a
California team on the path to FIRST,
a competition that
of thousands of stu-
Nerds are the
heroes of this epic
tale, starting with
Dean Kamen, inven-
tor of the Segway
and founder of the competition in 1989.
The team’s leader is Amir Abo-Shaeer,
an engineer turned teacher. His dream:
to create a new hands-on approach to
Taylor Wilson, who wheeled into the
fair a nuclear fusion reactor he had
built in a basement.
Teenagers coming up with new
nanotechnology and genetically engi-
neered worms are impressive, but
some of the most compelling stories
feature simple science done against all
odds. Garrett Yazzie’s is one of the most
Navajo boy pieced
together a radiator
from a 1967 Pontiac
with other junkyard
finds to build a solar-
powered heater for
his mother’s dilapi-
dated trailer. Dutton
does readers a service by including kids
who show that science is not just for
the one-in-a-million genius; great ideas
can come from humble beginnings.
While light on scientific detail about
the projects, the book succeeds in keep-
ing its focus on the real inspirations:
the kids. — Erika Engelhaupt
Hyperion, 2011, 288 p., $24.
high school education at Dos Pueblos
Abo-Shaeer guides 31 seniors through
the day-to-day challenges of designing,
All in all, the book reads like a feel-
good sports movie, peppered with high
school banter and physics lessons.
Expect close-ups of competitors dealing
with nerves and blow-by-blow descrip-
tions of robots shooting balls like mech-
anized Michael Jordans.
Bascomb spends little time exploring the problems in U.S. science and
engineering education that motivate
the competition. But readers concerned
about these issues may find comfort in a
book that’s just as enthusiastic as its protagonists — some of the best and bright-est kids in the nation. — Devin Powell
Success with Science
Shiv Gaglani, ed.
In this guide to high
school research, five
Harvard students and
past competition win-
ners give tips on proj-
ect ideas, finding mentors and more.
Research Corp. for Science Advance-
ment, 2011, 180 p., $19.95.
The Geek Dad’s Guide
to Weekend Fun
All the entertainment
a geek family could
want is packed into
this how-to book, from backyard zip
lines to homemade robots. Gotham
Books, 2011, 227 p., $18.
Strange New Worlds
Engaging stories of
astronomers and their
quest to find Earthlike
planets orbiting dis-
tant suns, and even
signs of life. Princeton Univ. Press,
2011, 255 p., $24.95.
A brief history of sci-
ence blunders through
the ages, including
radium cures and
phrenology, the read-
ing of head bumps. Eagle Press,
2011, 224 p., $14.95.
Physics of the Future
A physicist interviews
over 300 scientists
and lays out a mostly
rosy vision of research
advances that he pre-
dicts will shape the world by 2100.
Doubleday, 2011, 389 p., $28.95.
How to Order To order these books or others,
visit www.sciencenews.org/bookshelf. A click on
a book’s title will transfer you to Amazon.com.