Be a Science Fair Judge

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Last week I was a judge for the local EnvironMentors Fair (a science fair with an environmental theme). Thirty-one high school students were competing for scholarship money, the chance to compete at the national fair this week and, of course, bragging rights. This was the first time I'd been to a science fair since I'd competed in them back in middle school. It was fun and far more interesting than I had expected. There were projects on plenty of topics that were of personal relevance and interest---electronics recycling, local water pollution, how neighborhood income is related to tree cover, and even the carbon footprint of fashion. Would I do it again? Of course, and I look forward to it.

How can you become a science fair judge? This is one question for which Google does not have an easy answer. I suggest you try calling your local school and find out if they need volunteers; they'll probably jump at the chance. Or if you've got a local EnvironMentors chapter, that's another good option. It's a great way to help kids to continue their interest in science.

And I have a few tips for students participating in future science fairs (though if you want more detailed advice, check out this list from a 5-time judge):

* Pick something that you're passionate about, whether it's computer gaming, environmental justice or fashion. It comes across positively in your work (and worked well for some contestants in the Intel Science Talent Search 2010).

* Ask a clear question in your research and then try to answer it. Your project will be better for it, even if---perhaps especially if---the answer isn't what you thought it would be.

* Pictures, props and graphics help to explain your research, sometimes more than words.

* Don't worry if you're nervous. The judges were you, many years ago, and we understand the nerves. Just take a deep breath, collect your thoughts and continue.

* And don't forget to enjoy yourself. Science should be fun.

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