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.”