Friday, May 14, 2010
They are all dressed so nicely for the Awards ceremony, so we head outside to take the official team pictures for the year. Then it's time for breakfast.
I think that we've somehow voted "Flames" the official Canadian IISEF team restaurant, as we were back there for breakfast again this morning. The food is great (and quick!), the staff efficient and friendly, and they don't bat an eyelash when we walk in with 26 of us! This is the third meal this week that we've "officially" eaten there ... some of the kids tell us they've been back a couple of times in smaller groups ..
Stuffed full of food, we head over to the Awards ceremony.
Intel and Society for Science put on a fabulous show indeed.
A large multi media presentation, along with music the kids love, highlight everything that's been special about the week.
Then it's time for the Awards:
4th Place ($500 prize) to:
Vivian Leung in Cellular & Molecular Biology
Chris Nielson in Electrical & Mechanical Engineering
Emma Graham in Environmental Mgmt.
3rd Place ($1,000 prize) to:
Claire Edgcumbe in Cellular & Molecular Biology
Gary Burek in Electrical & Mechanical Engineering
Mary Zhao in Environmental Mgmt
Jonathan Zhou in Mathematics
Vivienne & Janelle Tam - Team Category
2nd Place ($1500 prize + an asteroid named after them) to:
Adelina Cozma in Behavioural Sciences
Dheevesh Arulmani in Energy & Transportation
Vivian is from Bay Area Science & Engineering Fair,
Gary is from the Alberta Science Fair Foundation,
the rest of the students were chosen for the Team by Youth Science Canada.
We're back at the hotel now to tear down the projects, then we're headed out for lunch, and, in typical Canadian fashion, some fabulous fun activity yet to be identified. Good thing all the chaperones can go with the flow!
Stef has uploaded new pictures from this week .....
The link again is ...
The students have chains across the front of their booths to keep the younger students away from their displays. Kent, feeling a little caged I guess, puts a note on the front of his booth saying "Please don't feed the finalists". They are all given vouchers for a box lunch, so we don't need to organize that meal either.
Chaperones spend the day having the opportunity to actually visit the Fair, and see projects. Stef takes the opportunity to take a picture of each of the students at their project (pictures now posted on the link I provided earlier this week)
There's an opportunity in the afternoon to visit Stanford University. Stef accompanies four of the students on this trip, while the rest of us get the others organized for dinner. We head back to Flames (where we had breakfast earlier this week). We are joined by the students and chaperones from Alberta.
After dinner, we head over to the Awards ceremony for Government and Special Awards.
When we arrive there's a slide show presentation scrolling through of "interesting facts".
Some of these include
a) an eyelash lives about five months
b) your eyeballs are 3.5% salt
c) the average cocoon containes 300 - 400 m of silk
d) no President of the United States has been an only child
e) silicon is the most abundant element on earth, next to oxygen
After some brief introductions, the Awards ceremony begins.
It was a great night for Canada!!!
Google was a brand new sponsor this year, and they offered nine awards .. two runners up and a winner in each of three categories.
In the Google "Cross Disciplinary Award" category, Chris from Calgary was a runner up, and received a $1,000 award.
In the Google "Future of Energy" category, Dheevesh from Mississauga was the $10,000 winner! Only problem was, he was one of the students who had gone with Stef to Harvard, and they weren't back yet!
American Psychological Association - 1st prize of $1500 went to Adelina from Richmond Hill
Illinois Institute of Technology's Institute of Psychology - $15K renewable at that level for 4 years (ie $60K in total!) went to Adelina. She also received a $1500 cash award for Excellence in Psychology
Int. Council on Systems Enginnering - 1st prize of $1500 went to Gary from Calgary
National Anti-Vivisection Society - 2nd prize of $2000 went to Vivian from Oakville
Psi Chi, National Honor Society in Psychology - 1st prize went to Adelina.
We head back to the hotel, then a group decide that an ice cream party is in order, so a large group head out to Ben and Jerry's to celebrate!
We set curfew for midnight again, and are looking forward to the Grand Awards tomorrow morning.
Judging Day. The day that the students have spent weeks, months, maybe all year preparing for. It's also Brian's 17th Birthday.
Deciding that the stress of getting everyone all ready and out for breakfast was too much, we had a "continental breakfast buffet" in Cathy and Liane's room. There was juice, milk, fresh fruit, muffins, croissants, bagels, bread, cream cheese, peanut butter, jam, honey, and, of course, lots of orange marmalade. We stick a green candle in Brian's yogurt and sing a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday.
The students all look great. It's always a fun day in town when you see "the locals" doing their double-takes on the street as they see teenagers in suit and tie, and adults with them dressed way more casually! Most of them are fairly calm, but a couple are a little nervous, and our IISEF veterans do their best to answer their questions and calm them down.
By 7:45, we've seen all the students and they head to their projects. They don't have that long for lunch, so the chaperones all head out to get various items to have lunch all ready for them when they come out. We had pre-ordered sandwiches from the Pita Pit (quickly becoming a crowd favourite), so Cathy, Ray and Stef head over to pick those up. Deidre, Liane and Dustin stay back to source out a prime spot on the floor of the hotel big enough to fit everyone. They lay out drinks, fruit, and chips, and "secure" our spot with a dollar store 12 foot string of small Canadian flags.
We set up a "relay" to make sure the kids all get to the right spot. Liane and Stef inside the door of the convention centre, Ray at the door where the convention centre comes into the hotel, and Cathy at "the turn" of the hallway. The instructions are "head down this hall to the end .. straight through Brazil until you arrive at Canada!
They arrive noisily, ready to decompress and talk about their morning. Lots of comparisons about how many judges they have had, how they think the morning has gone, and what the craziest or most difficult question they have been asked was. They finish their lunch, and we stick yet another green candle into a Hostess Chocolate Cupcake (there were also Twinkies and Ho Ho's as gourmet dessert options) and sing Happy Birthday to Brian again. The weather outside is beautiful (75 degrees) so many of them head outside to sit in the sun for 15 minutes, while a few others head to the e-Lounge to check on their email.
We decide that something cold would be good for afternoon snack, so head back over to Safeway to pick up ice cream bars and Fudgsicles for their afternoon break. They come out at 3:45, and the ice cream is gone before we can blink twice! They head back in for their final round of judging.
At last it's over! Time to unwind with a party! Kids and adults are sent to different locations for their dance. The adult reception starts at 6 pm. We get there at 6:05, and they have already run out of food. We get a few rice balls, Stef grabs the last little piece of blue cheese and brie from a tray, and we then decide to start eating the table garnish .. carrots still with the stems on. Liane decides to braid three of them together for fun.
There's a band at the adult mixer ... the music is great, but we all decide that we're getting too old as we think the music is too loud. We decide to head out and find a place to sit and chat. After visiting a couple of places, decide to head back to the hotel.
The kids have just returned from their party that was across the street. We find them on the second floor lobby (which has sort of become our unofficial hangout .. it's the place we've now been holding all our team meetings) playing a game of Mafia .. except for a few who were really tired who had already gone to bed.
We set curfew for midnight .. everyone is in their rooms by then, ready for a good night's sleep.
We successfully navigated the return to the hotel (thank heavens for Stef's GPS), then headed off on our mad adventure ... the old song "Convoy" comes to mind ....
Not sure why we decided that having three vans attempt to follow each other heading into San Francisco during the morning rush hour was a good idea ... perhaps with a little more coffee, we might have come up with a better plan! We had our walkie-talkies with us, and the excellent navigation skills of Ray, Dustin and Liane, so it all turned out OK. Stef was in the lead, Cathy in the middle, Deidre bringing up the rear!
So our route took us over the Golden Gate Bridge (just so we could say we'd done it), then we turned around on the other side, and came right back over! Headed into town, and had to go up a hill, then back down, just to say we had done that too! We then headed over to Pier 45 (after Ryan had to jump out of the van for an emergency stop at Denny's) for the remainder of the morning.
The students had a great time wandering around, and particularly enjoyed the sea lions at Pier 39. Another "highlight" was the lady singing loudly, and holding up the sign "Need Money for Weed". At least she was honest about it! Everyone had lunch on their own, the chaperones all wound up at Boudins for Seafood Chowder in a bowl. Boudin's is really cool .. they make sourdough bread in all different kinds of shapes .. including turtles, alligators, and crabs.
We made our way back to San Jose in time for the students to go see the Nobel Laureate presentation. An IISEF tradition, a number of Nobel Laureates come each year and have a panel discussion. Students have the opportunity to pose questions to them. Teneille and Dheevesh were chosen to ask their questions, and, as a result, also received an invitation to lunch with all the Laureates!
Everyone was tired, so spent the rest of the afternoon practicing their projects, hanging out, reading or playing cards. The chaperones head to Safeway Market to buy breakfast provisions for tomorrow morning. We don't have a refrigerator, so decide to use ice in Cathy & Liane's bathtub. The students spend some time coming up with a creative title for this Science Fair project. "Thermal reduction in a controlled environment".
We're not sure whether or not dinner is going to be served at our evening function. So we head over to a promenade that isn't too far away. The group divides into 2, some going to Johnny Rocket's (a diner featuring burgers, fries and shakes), the other group heads next door to a Mexican restaurant.
This was followed by an evening at the world-famous Tech Museum of Innovation and Parkside Hall that is within a block of our hotel. The Museum features some truly amazing interactive science and technology exhibits, and an IMAX theatre. There were indeed food stations set up all over the museum. Hard to believe that any of us could eat anything, but we did!
Back to the hotel for a 10 pm curfew .. tomorrow is judging day, and we want everyone well rested.
Monday, May 10, 2010
We head off to a breakfast spot that Stef had discovered on an early morning walk … Peggy Sue’s Diner. They were a little overwhelmed by the crowd that came in … and, unlike yesterday, didn’t handle it well! They didn’t start cooking until they had rung in the order for all 26 of us … and then it was chaos! You order your breakfast, then they call you back up to the window. Because the whole order was on one bill, it only had one number. The lady at the counter gave us all wrong information about what omelette was what … it took almost 25 minutes to sort it all out! But we got there eventually …
Back to the hotel to check for an additional check for safety violations … we had only one, which was corrected fairly quickly.
We do the “divide and conquer” routine again … splitting the chaperones into pairs, and having the students present to a different group than they had presented to yesterday. The students are gaining confidence, and the presentations are becoming far more polished!
By 12:30 or so, the presentations were done and we decided to split up and do a bunch of different things. There was a large group that wanted to go shopping, some who wanted to go to a movie, some who wanted to work on their projects and some who weren’t sure WHAT they wanted to do! So the group going shopping decided to test out the San Jose transit system, I hung out at the hotel lobby .. sort of the “calm in the middle of the storm” as the students checked in and out from their various afternoon adventures.
It was 5:30 by the time we had collected everyone together again, and time to head over for dinner and the Opening Ceremonies at San Jose State University.
Dinner tonight was an outdoor buffet at the University. Roast Beef, BBQ chicken, a variety of salads and fresh fruit and, the favourite of all, an ice cream bar freezer! After dinner it was time to head to the Opening Ceremonies. A pre-show featured various forms of Indian Dance, as well as a Samba Reggae Drum Line. Very cool!
Eventually, the lights went down, the music started, and the show was on!
This is the 61st Annual Fair .. and the largest ever! There are 1611 students from 59 countries. Countries new this year were Palestine and Morocco. Both were greeted with loud cheers and applause. One of the most amazing things about this Fair is that students are both full of civic pride, yet almost oblivious to the politics of their own countries. One of the most moving things for me every year is the realization that there is indeed an opportunity for world peace … these students truly see the best in each other, and their friendship translates political boundaries in a really profound way.
Highlights of the Opening Ceremonies included a presentation by Larry Page, co-founder of Google, who encouraged the students to “Have a healthy disregard for the impossible”. In other words .. don’t let anyone else tell you what you can or cannot accomplish.
Elizabeth Marincola, President of Society for Science and the Public, suggested to the students that they “make a point of talking to at least one person from another country, discover together what you have in common, and then make a pact of how you can work together to change the world for the better”.
This was followed by a panel of five “Intel Rock Stars” … high profile employees of Intel who have made a difference. One of those was Ajay Bhatt, a co-inventor of the USB key, who also holds 8 other patents. The panel took questions from the students .. submitted by Twitter during the actual panel session time. He talked about what it takes to be really innovative.
One of the other panel members suggested to the students that to be “innovative” is to be really, really brave. That in order to innovate, you need to challenge the status quo and often need to challenge people in authority. That when you have an idea that no-one else can get their head around to support in the early stages, that that’s when you likely have a truly remarkable innovation.
Other cool random facts from the opening tonight … (a) the Eiffel Tower has 2,500,000 rivets in it (b) the weight of a carat (200 milligrams) is based on the weight of a carob seed (c) Not that they have had any requests from out of space .. but Google has a Klingon interface .. just in case! (d) there were 4 Nobel Laureates at tonight’s ceremony
The absolute highlight of the Opening is always the “Shout Out”. Representatives from each country record a 20 – 30 second video message, and create a poster about their country. The two boys from Alberta, Brian and Gary, had recorded the video, and the poster was run up on stage tonight by Wardah from BASEF and Jonathan from YSC. It’s truly incredible to see 120 kids from 59 countries up on stage together working towards a common goal.
Ceremony over, we head back to the hotel, arriving back about 9:45. Curfew is 10:30 once again, and so everyone hangs out together in various locations until it’s time for bed. Which it now is for me too!
Up early tomorrow morning to go rent vans, then head with the kids to San Francisco.
I didn't manage to write anything yesterday, as by the time I could, I was too tired! Bed was calling, and they are really comfy, so I answered the call!
I'll fill you in on the past couple of days in a moment, but for now I'm sitting in the hotel lobby with Supritha, Kimmy and Adelina. Vivian has just arrived, and the girls are anxious to leave, but I'm forcing them to give me something profound to say to jump start my creativity.
Supritha was just attacked by a branch on the promenade outside, and is now afraid to leave the hotel. Just kidding .. sort of. A gust of wind broke a 3 foot piece of branch off a tree, and it almost hit her as it fell. The lure of shopping, however, is stronger than her fear of trees, and she's willing to brave the streets of San Jose once again!
Kimmy has recovered from her first day elevator adventure and is excited for opening ceremonies tonight. She loved the pin exchange last night, but won't tell me why. As per usual, I'll find out next week on Facebook.
Vivian L reminds everyone never to leave home without your umbrella. The myth that California is only ever sunny and hot, is just that .. a myth. (which of course hasn't stopped her from wearing shorts and sandals even though it's only 12 degrees.
Uliana's story: As we were leaving for pin trading yesterday, i had stayed behind to call my mom. When I was done, I pushed the elevator button and then got on, then got off again when it stopped, without looking at what floor it was. I got off at the 18th floor instead of the 2nd. Waited too long for the elevator to return, so I ran down the stairs as I was afraid I would be late. To make a long story short, I wound up in a parking garage with another lost delegate from Florida, and eventually found my way back outside.
OK .. girls have gone shopping ... back to our adventures!
So yesterday (Sunday) morning we wound up at a restaurant called "Flames" for breakfast. It was about a 15 minute walk from the hotel, and is on the campus of San Jose State University. I need to digress for a moment to point out that, as far as I'm aware, San Jose isn't a State .. but that piece of information doesn't seem to bother anyone but me, so I'll let it go!
Once again, the portions were large, the food was great, and the students are all getting to know each other better. The volume tends to increase with every meal .. as does the bredth and depth of topics of conversation!
After breakfast, we headed back to the hotel to get our projects and start setting them up. We had two safety violations (Uliana and Brian) to clear up, so we book those appointments, then settle down to work. There are 1200 projects here, and they are organized by category. We have students in many different categories, so are literally all over the convention centre. We instruct the kids to set up their own project, get it safety checked, then find and assist any of the other Canadian students until we are all done. It sounds like a simple process, but there are always bugs.
Some of the students fail their first inspection for a variety of reasons. To list Prozac, for example, on your backboard is considered advertising for that particular brand and isn't allowed. Someone else made reference to a particular University lab that they had worked in, which also isn't allowed. Chris's board was too big by about 3/4 of an inch, so we had to disassemble it, cut it down to size, then reassemble it and re-do all the material in order to make it fit on the smaller board.
There's an amazing place called "The Hub" in the middle, where you can borrow scissors, tape, screwdrivers, exacto knives, circular saws ... so it all gets accomplished .. but it takes time.
By 1 pm, most of the students were done their set up, so we left the hotel in search of lunch.
Stef took us via “the scenic route” (translation, four blocks out of our way!) to the Pita Pit. Have to say that the two guys there didn’t bat an eyelash when 20 people walked in all at the same time … one of them was even joking that this would be a good time to take his break … and they did an amazing job of getting us all through in record time!
Dustin and Liane had stayed behind with the five students who hadn’t finished, so they headed out just as the rest of were getting back to the hotel.
We like to hear the student’s presentations a couple of times .. so the chaperones broke into pairs: Cathy and Stef; Deidre and Ray; and Liane and Dustin .. and we then had the students sign up in 20 minute blocks so that we could hear their presentations and offer some feedback. That took up most of the afternoon.
I often get asked by people .. “So what kind of topics do the kids present on”. Just in case you’re curious, here’s the answer! I am always so honest when people ask about what my role is here. As you can tell from the level of study here, there’s little that I can teach this group about their science. They really are all passionate about what they do, and have an expertise well beyond their years. But we can help with presentation skills, and coach them through their nervousness, and all works out well in the end!
Adelina – Slow It Down to Speed It Up – Breaking through the Window of Autism
Supritha – The Effect of Anti-Oxidants on Plant Dynamics through Fertilizer Use Efficiency
Kimmy – Got Gas? Feasibility of a Methane Capture System
Mary – Grasping Water: Exploring a Novel Method of Inducing Precipitation
Claire - Do NDMA Receptors Affect Early Brain Development
Taneille – Functional Analysis of Telomerase Mutations in Dyskeratosis congenital
Emma – Novel Synthesis: Imidacloprid CYP450 Pesticide Synergist from Dill Lowers Surface Runoff Toxicity
Vivienne & Janelle – Mini Magnetic Muck Managers
Brian – Catechin’s Anti-angiogenic Effects in Epithelial Ovarian Cancer
Uliana – Molecular Insights on DNA Uptake and Transit Pathways in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Dheevesh – Bio-inspired Photonic Fuel Cell
Kent – Aesalon: Visualizing Dynamically-Allocated Memory in Real-Time
Chris – Robust Displacement Estimation Employing Inexpensive Webcam Based Optical Flow
Jonathan – Constructing Inverse Limits with Upper Semi-Continuous Functions
Ryan – Development of a High Speed Flash Technique for Compact Digital Cameras
Brian – Determining the Role of the PTEN/PI-3K Pathway in Regulating the Intracellular Expression and Localization of the Oncoprotein B-Catenin
Gary – 2 for 1 Wheelchair: Improving Autonomy through the Development of Multi-Functional Mobility Aids
Vivian – Morphological and Functional Characterization of Lower Female Genital Tract Epithelial Cell Cultures in Different Growth Conditions
Ream & Sara – Are Eco-tergents Truly “Gents”?
Wardah – Detection of UV Protection: Assessing SPF’s in a Bacterial Model
One of the highlights for the students is always the “Pin Exchange”. Each student brings pins that represent their fair, their region or their country. They wear them on their nametag lanyard, then trade with other people for ones they like. The adults have their own pin exchange .. some people take this very seriously … there is one gentleman who has a vest with over 600 pins that he’s collected through almost 35 years of attending IISEF!
We send the students off to theirs, and settle into ours. There were snacks at the pin exchange, but we’re all still stuffed from lunch. We head upstairs after a while to hang out in Stef and Dustin’s room and await the kids return. We hear them long before we see them ….
Same routine as the night before … everyone’s hanging out, a few working on projects. 10:30 curfew, and it’s off to bed …..
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Arrived at Toronto airport yesterday, and got all checked in without incident .. no line up at all. Walked into the US customs area, and there was not a single person in line, so got through that quickly too.
After explaining a couple of the primary rules of the trip, namely:
a) never walk past a Starbucks without going in (and if Cathy and Ray are not with you, here's what you need to pick up and bring them)
b) get a receipt!
We got some breakfast at Starbucks and headed to the gate to hang out. I had received a text from Stefane (lead delegate for YSC contingent) that they had arrived just as we were heading into customs, so we figured they wouldn't be far behind us.
An hour later, there was still no sign of them. The BASEF gang must have made it through at just the right time, as there was now an almost hour wait in the customs area. They all made it through with about 15 minutes to spare.
Lots of hugs for those who were reconnecting, and introductions for those who were meeting for the first time. We have a total of 20 students and 6 chaperones. We will be meeting an additional 2 students and 1 chaperone who are coming in from Alberta later on.
By the time we get onto the plane, the conversation level has risen considerably. Some of the students choose to chill on the plane, others are continuing to perfect their projects. The flight attendants ask a few of the students about their projects, and, as most people are, appear rather overwhelmed at the complexity of some of them. After a few choruses of "Are we there yet", we arrive in San Francisco.
We get off the plane and collect in an area near the boarding area until we know we have everyone. It took about 20 minutes to sort everything out, use the washrooms, then we head outside.
We're standing by the baggage carousel, when we hear a "Code Orange" come over the loudspeaker. Our luggage is arriving, when one of our students realized she left one of her bags upstairs inside the security area. Ray heads back up with her to see if she can get her bag, while the rest of us head to the bus. I'm sure if you read the last three sentences, you can connect all the dots, so I won't!
There are so many students coming in that the Fair committee is running shuttle buses from both San Jose and San Francisco airports. We need to break into a couple of groups as we didn't all fit on one bus. The issue isn't the people necessarily, it's the amount of luggage that we bring with us as some of the projects are quite large and complex.
We get settled in at the hotel (checking in 26 people takes a little while ....) and then Stef and I head over to register everyone at the fair while the other chaperones, Deidre, Liane, Dustin and Ray, take the kids to find something to eat. Stef and I drop the packages back at the hotel, and head off to join the gang.
As you can well imagine, it's a challenge finding a restaurant on a Saturday night that will take 26 walk in's .. but they've found one, the Grande, a few blocks from the hotel. It's across the street from San Jose State University, which is featuring an outdoor Jazz and Blues festival on the lawn. We sit out on the patio enjoying the music immensely. Food was great, and the portions overwhelming to some of the young ladies. The chaperones (who all know better, and had warned the kids .. who never listen the first time, but do after that) had ordered one appetizer and three entrees to split between the six of us .. and there was still food left! Armed with lots of leftover food, we head back to the hotel, taking the "scenic route" to explore a little of the area.
Back to the hotel, and we take over the 10th floor lobby area for a team meeting. Formal introductions this time, with the students telling us where they are from, what grade they are in, and about their projects. We review the rules of the week, answer a thousand questions, then give everyone a curfew time. One of the most amazing things to watch was the leadership that the students who have been here before showed in answering the questions of the newer students.
Wifi is free in the lobby, but not in our rooms ... so many of the students head downstairs, and there's about 15 of them hanging out in the lobby. Others are playing cards, looking at their projects, or just hanging out.
One of our students wind up being stuck in the elevator, unbeknownst to us. Her roommate comes to say that she had come down to the lobby but not back up. It's almost curfew time, so we discover who's in their rooms (read .... nobody!) when we go looking to see if we can figure out where she is. Whole thing was over in ten minutes, it just seems longer when you're in the middle of it!
We have two students with safety violations, so will deal with those first thing in the morning.
We remind all the students to call their Mom's tomorrow morning (a big shout out to my munchkins, Tyler and Caitie!) and head to bed ourselves.