Have you ever been a judge at a local science fair?

Thread Starter

Raymond Genovese

Joined Mar 5, 2016
I was impressed by a recent thread on AAC which had some posts by a member ( @recklessrog ) who runs a local electronics club.

This made me wonder whether any users here (especially those, like myself, that have many more yesterdays than tomorrows…as they say :)) have ever participated in a local science fair as a judge?

I have been a judge in such fares in the past and have a couple of “stories” to relate, but I would first like to hear whether others also have such experience or if they ever considered being a science fair judge.
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Joined Jan 15, 2015
No but I enjoy attending such events.

I worked with a younger engineer with 3 boys in school. There was no doubt in his mind they were all going to be engineers. So one day we are chatting and he asked me about how I would go about doing something, I forget, it was some sort of measurement. So I shared my thoughts. A few days later my lab guy asked me if I told this engineer about how to do a measurement and would he (lab guy) do a setup using a sensor. My lab guy wasn't going to do it unless I knew he was doing this little "side" project. So I told him yeah as long as he had some time but the real lab work comes first. Right about now I am wondering what the hell is going on? Turns out this engineer is helping his son's group with a science fair project so I asked him if the science fair was to determine which kid or kids had the smartest engineer father? :)

I also shared my own views. As a kid I participated in several science fair projects and did manage a few ribbons but my father expected me to understand, build and present my projects. I had no issue with a father helping his son but we were not going to use company resources to help unless his son's group could define their project then I would look the other way at rising paper on my desk. I think that kid graduates OSU with his BS in engineering this summer. I remember when he was the first born.

I really enjoy attending good science fairs but never was involved in judging one.


Glenn Holland

Joined Dec 26, 2014
One embarrassing thing about science fairs is when your suspect the student's project was actually designed an built by the participant's parent instead of the student.

One case was a project called "Electronic Music Composer" which got the student an honorable mention. However, then the student came up to the stage to receive the award, the host asked him what was his project? The student replied "Electronic Music Maker"and you could hear all the gasps and chuckles among the audience!!! o_O
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Thread Starter

Raymond Genovese

Joined Mar 5, 2016
I have two “most memorable” science fair projects to mention.

The first was not a project from a section that I was judging, but it was clear that it was receiving a great deal of attention. It was on symmetry and chaos. This was shortly after the time of Gleick’s book and chaos was a “new” big deal. The project came directly from a SA mathematical recreations column (memory may betray me and it could have been an article rather than the column). To be clear, he didn’t steal anything, it was just more of a “book report” than a science fair project. It was, however, obviously receiving a great deal of attention and praise.

So, near the end of the judging time, I sat down and identified myself as a judge in another section and let him do his spiel. Then, I asked him if he ever saw this article. His eyes got wide. After telling him that I too saw the article and played with the listings and thought it was interesting. I then had a heart-to-heart with him that essentially boiled down to, look you have a nice little project, people who do not much understand it think it is hot, but we both know that you didn’t do even a small amount of what you could have done. That’s fine, but what you do next with the topic, is what matters. I felt like I had made a real impact. I did notice that he later got some kind of ribbon and maybe that is all he wanted and I had no impact at all – let me keep thinking that I did.

The one that impressed me most, was one by this little kid (maybe 14 or so) and it was a city school (I remember seeing a few college acceptance letters along with sports trophies as I walked through the halls on the way to the gymnasium where the projects were). Our group was an adjunct, a community service judging group rather than the official judges. We had a few very fancy, very impressive, very official-looking certificates in fancy folders to present. As I recall, we also had a few $25 savings bonds to go along with some of them.

This kid did a project on Turkey Buzzards (Vultures) and it was amazing. He had painstakingly kept a laboratory notebook and for a long time, noting all the sightings and the nesting sites, the subjects, paths and much more. He knew everything he could find out about Turkey Buzzards. He only had cheap Polaroids of them, but he also had one nice print – he was quick to add that he had not taken the nice one, but had written to the paper to ask if they could send him a print, which he displayed and had credited. The whole poster was hand drawn with amazing detail. I’m telling you, I have seen graduate students that were less conscientious. This kid had all the makings of a Lewis Thomas (Lives of a Cell).

When I came back to our small group, I did not lobby, I demanded, that we give this kid a top prize. The others went to see it and agreed. In this case, they kick the participants out at a point when the judges go place their ribbons and the like by the chosen projects. Then they let the kids back in for the big reveal – it is very dramatic.

I watched from a distance as the kid went back to his project and quickly saw that there were no ribbons attached to his board. Then, he saw our folder and award. He was beaming! I tell you, it did my heart good.