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Young scientists in training

Last weekend, 350 critical-thinkers-in-training flooded Cabot Cage for the 67th annual Boston Science Fair, where middle- and high-school students from around the city presented their research on topics ranging from the effects of wind turbine blade design on energy output to molecular signaling in human lung cells.

“Training in science and STEM is really a way of thinking,” said Christos Zahopoulos, executive director of Northeastern’s Center for STEM Education. “It’s a way of approaching problems, a way of becoming a critical thinker.”

The Center for STEM Education and Boston Public Schools have collaborated for many years, said Claire Duggan, the center’s director of programs and partnerships. This year, the duo found a third partner in Science From Scientists, a local nonprofit organization that places practicing scientists in elementary- and middle-school classrooms to engage with students.

“I used to compete in science fairs all the time,” said Erika Ebbel Angle, CEO and founder of Science from Scientists. “When I think about what really made me want to be a scientist, it was those experiences I had as a kid.”

Northeastern’s Marine Science Center engaged students during the activity session. Photo by Daniel Sullivan.

In addition to poster presentations, BPS students and guests participated in an interactive activities session organized by Northeastern graduate and STEM center staff member Daniel Sullivan. STEM center staff members and about 50 other Northeastern student volunteers helped make the day a success.

“The really interesting science fair projects, in my opinion, are the ones where the students are able to identify something in their personal experiences that has affected them that they are trying to overcome or investigate further,” Sullivan said.

Many of the students participating in this year’s fair are graduates of Northeastern’s Exxon Mobil Bernard Harris
Summer STEM Program for Middle School Students
, a two-week academic camp aimed at stimulating students’ interest in science and engineering as a potential career path.

“The thing I love about science is the whole experimenting thing,” said Ina Beinborn, an 8thgrader at Boston Latin School and a camp graduate. “You can find out something that was unknown to you before, and it just gives you experience, and more knowledge.” Beinborn’s project on the effects of moving air versus still air on melting ice won her second place in the competition’s junior division.

The science fair approach allows students to get their hands dirty, to ask questions of their world, and do “the whole experimenting thing” until they find answers, said Pam Pelletier, senior program director for science at BPS.

“They have to wrestle with ideas and discrepancies between what they thought, what they know, what they’re seeing,” Pelletier said. “Science is messy—and that’s what we want kids to know.”