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International Science and Engineering Fair finalist Sonja Michaluk watches the fair's opening ceremony in her home lab. Photo: courtesy of Sonja Michaluk

Modern high school science fair projects are a long way from model volcanoes — they can now feature DNA sequencing, 3D printers, and other technologies from the pages of scientific and technical journals. But for all the cutting-edge science, most fairs are still held in person — or were, until the coronavirus pandemic forced many to go virtual this year.

Why it matters: Science fairs are the culmination of at least months of work for many high school students and can connect them to lifelong friends and opportunities.

What's happening: Like most events, science fairs across the country and around the world went virtual this year.

  • Today, McKinley Technology High School seniors took part in their Virtual STEM Fair. The D.C. public school students created videos of their projects in biotechnology, cybersecurity, engineering and digital media, many of which were cut short by the pandemic.
  • They were then judged along with their responses in a live Q&A session.
  • "Kids can feel really stressed out about being in the fair. This way was less stressful," says student Mickeyla Clark of D.C.

For the first time in 70 years, the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) was held online last week. It included more than 30 panel discussions with science superstars, virtual experiences, and college and university presentations.

  • The roughly 1,300 finalists from 55 countries presented their work in a virtual exhibition hall.
  • The organizers decided to forgo the usual competition, given that since feeder fairs were canceled or went virtual, not all students could take part. (For reference, the top winner at ISEF usually takes home $75,000, and more than $4 million in cash and other prizes are awarded to others.)

But the virtual format also meant many more people were able to attend, says Maya Ajmera, CEO of the Society for Science & the Public, which organizes ISEF.

  • Nearly 18,000 people had registered as of this morning.
  • "It was so satisfying to see such experiences expanded to those who would not have had access," says Sonja Michaluk, a 17-year-old student from Titusville, New Jersey, who is a three-time ISEF finalist. She says she encouraged a friend in Bangladesh to join. "He would not have had such an opportunity. He has often said that he has limited access to things as basic as books."
  • Ajmera says they're likely to stick with some virtual components going forward. "It's a game-changer."

"I’m impressed they kept the fair going considering the global situation," says Michaluk. "I think that’s incredible and it teaches us young scientists and engineers the importance of being nimble and adapting because if we are going to solve the world’s problems we need those skills."

What to watch: If the pandemic continues to keep students out of labs this year, Ajmera expects they may instead plumb big datasets or explore computational problems. And she says she's interested in seeing how the pandemic inspires next year's projects.

Go deeper: You can watch ISEF's programming here until June 5.

Go deeper

Kim Hart, author of Cities
Aug 27, 2020 - Health

Most urban schools will start the year with all-remote learning

Reproduced from a CRPE report; Chart: Axios Visuals

About half of school districts across the country will return to school buildings in the fall — but the majority of the big-city school districts that also serve large numbers of at-risk students will be doing remote learning for the foreseeable future.

The big picture: There's a stark divide in school reopening plans between urban and rural districts, according to an analysis by the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Inhofe loudly sets Trump straight on defense bill

Sen. Jim Inhofe speaks with reporters in the Capitol last month. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Senator Jim Inhofe told President Trump today he'll likely fail to get two big wishes in pending defense spending legislation, bellowing into his cellphone: "This is the only chance to get our bill passed," a source who overheard part of their conversation tells Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans are ready to test whether Trump's threats of vetoing the bill, which has passed every year for more than half a century, are empty.

Conspiracy theories blow back on Trump's White House

Sidney Powell. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

President Trump has rarely met a conspiracy theory he doesn't like, but he and other Republicans now worry the wild tales told by lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood may cost them in Georgia's Senate special elections.

Why it matters: The two are telling Georgians not to vote for Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler because of a bizarre, baseless and potentially self-defeating theory: It's not worth voting because the Chinese Communist Party has rigged the voting machines.

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