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.

Bill Clinton slams McConnell and Trump: "Their first value is power"

Former President Bill Clinton on Sunday called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) vow to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg's vacant Supreme Court seat before the next presidential inauguration "superficially hypocritical."

The big picture: Clinton, who nominated Ginsburg to the court in 1993, declined to say whether he thinks Democrats should respond by adding more justices if they take back the Senate and the White House in November. Instead, he called on Republicans to "remember the example Abraham Lincoln set" by not confirming a justice in an election year.

Pelosi: Trump wants to "crush" ACA with Ginsburg replacement

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that President Trump is rushing to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg because he "wants to crush the Affordable Care Act."

Why it matters: Pelosi wants to steer the conversation around the potential Ginsburg replacement to health care, which polls show is a top issue for voters, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Trump administration has urged the courts to strike down the law, and with it, protections for millions with pre-existing conditions.