When students prove the experts wrong

Cool discoveries and inventions can result from science fair projects

Invention often results from someone doing what the conventional wisdom of those “in the know” understand as being impossible or improbable. Just as knowledge and experience can provide the insight for advancement, it can also hinder advancement, causing avenues of study and experimentation to be overlooked or avoided. Sometimes, genius is demonstrated by those that are just too stupid to realize the folly of examining ideas and questions overlooked by the intellectuals in a particular field or endeavor.  

On Feb. 17-18, the Denver Metro Regional Science and Engineering Fair will be held on the University of Colorado Denver campus. For two days, aspiring scientists and engineers from grades 6-12 will present their research and findings in a slew of scientific categories. Those that do well at the regional fair will be invited to the state fair, and those that excel at state will be invited to the national fair.

Interesting discoveries and inventions can result from science fair projects.  Middle and high school students often don't have the depth of knowledge and experience to realize their hypothesis and suppositions are unlikely to be borne out and will likely result in failure. Sometimes, perhaps more often than one might think, the students prove the experts wrong.

My daughter is attending the fair for the first time this year, having prepared her science project as part of her high school biology class. It took her some time to come up with an area of study and her project. I made several suggestions that related to areas of my engineering expertise and experience.

Before becoming a lawyer, I received a degree in metallurgical engineering, and practiced materials engineering for many years with an aerospace firm located in the Denver metro area. One of my areas of expertise was adhesive materials (or "glue"). My daughter ultimately decided to focus her project around surgical adhesives and a specific area of improvement thereof.

Upon hearing of my daughter's project, I was understandably skeptical. I knew enough about the chemistry of the adhesive and the nature of the additives she was investigating to realize she was almost certainly doomed to failure: The adhesive and the additive once mixed would not have a sufficient pot life to permit its application. Nevertheless, a science project is as much about the process as it is the results, so I laid low as she pursued her idea and offered my supposed sage advice now and then as she proceeded. 

As you might expect, given my introductory paragraph, I turned out to be wrong. Based on my daughter's initial testing, her modified surgical adhesive turned out to be just as strong, if not stronger, than the base adhesive. Most importantly, it resulted in a significant reduction in bacterial growth on the biomatter substrate in the region of the modified adhesive's application when compared to the base adhesive control.   

Sometimes conventional and learned wisdom is improved by a youthful exuberance and desire to try something new. And while I can't predict whether my daughter's discovery and modified surgical adhesive will ever mature into something adopted by medical care facilities, sometimes bucking the prevailing trend, going against the grain, or taking a side road may just result in something extraordinary that has the potential to change the world. 

If you want to know more about the Denver Science Fair, visit their website at www.denversciencefair.com. And if you have the time, you might want to attend and see what our future scientists, engineers, inventors, innovators, businesspeople and entrepreneurs are up to. Who knows – you may even meet a future Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

Categories: Consumer, Industry Trends