High school science fairs enter digital era

Viera High sophomore Alex Adams' science fair project is on the efficiency of solar panels.

Alex Adams has taken part in three previous science fairs, but it’s safe to say the Viera High sophomore has never been part of one like this.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event has gone digital and the schedule has been altered.

“I think the biggest thing is the difference in time,” Adams said. “Everything is due earlier this year. We usually have until around Valentine’s (Day), but we have to get it in before January ends now.”

Unlike previous years, where students physically construct a science board and bring their log books and research plans, those elements will be uploaded to a platform for judges to observe. Instead of in-person presentations where students can be questioned by judges, each high school student will be required to make a 10-minute video.

“I have some experience recording videos, so it shouldn’t be that hard for me,” Adams said. “But I know for students who might not have that experience, it could be very different and difficult.”

Viera High science research teacher Elizabeth Youngs believes the video presentations will have advantages and disadvantages for her students.

“You can write out your whole script and, hopefully, be in order, but on the flip side, some students need the prodding,” Youngs said. “They need those questions being asked of them, rather than just presenting.

“I think some students are going to think 10 minutes is going to take a long time to fill up. Others, 10 minutes will be done and they’re still talking. I think there’s going to be more practice and presentation from that aspect because people will want their videos to look right and sound appropriate.”

Once the first round of judging has taken place, science research teachers will be informed if any of their students have placed in the top three in any of the 13 categories. That will be followed by a Zoom interview with the judges before final results are announced.

Adams, who is one of 22 Viera High students taking part in science research, is looking at the efficiency of solar panels.

“Solar panels are used a lot in engineering,” she said. “I want to (be an aerospace engineer). They’re one of the most common sources of energy for space stuff. They’re also really important renewable energies right now.

“We’re having a clean energy deficiency because global warming is a problem. We can’t really keep how we’re going.”

The sophomore has finished collecting data for her project.

“I’m looking into which factors and specific parts of solar panels may have an effect on the efficiency,” she said. “Because then those parts can be improved upon.”