Science is Alive & Well @ DC STEM Fair 2017

ARMATURE Senior Architects Hari Pachuveetil & Cat Fletcher Support STEM in Our Community

This past Saturday morning, while many of us were either sleeping in or lingering over our morning coffee, two of ARMATURE’s senior architects woke up at the crack of dawn to serve as judges in the DC STEM Fair.

The Secondary STEM Fair took place at Dunbar High School in DC, and featured the work of promising 6th-12th grade public, public charter, parochial, private, and home school students. We love events like these, because they allow us to connect with the next generation of innovative thinkers and doers, and possibly even meet some future ARMATURE developers!

We grabbed a few minutes with ARMATURE judges Cat Fletcher and Hari Pachuveetil to dish about the event—highlights, standouts, and memorable moments.

How big is the Secondary STEM Fair, and what are the categories?

Hari: There were only a dozen or so high school projects, but between 30 and 50 middle schoolers. The range of categories was huge, and included animal sciences, behavioral and social sciences, biochemistry, biomedical and health sciences, cellular and molecular biology, chemistry, Earth and environmental sciences, energy, engineering mechanics, environmental engineering, materials science, physics and astronomy, plant sciences, and systems software.

Wow, that sounds pretty comprehensive! What category were you assigned to?

Hari: I was a middle school judge, and I got physics and astronomy.

Cat: I got middle school as well, and chemistry was my category.

How were the students judged?

Hari: In addition to the quality of their research question, students were judged on design and methodology, execution (data collection, analysis, and interpretation), creativity, poster display, and the all-important interview.

Were there any projects in particular that stood out to you?

Cat: One student, who was twelve years old, had a pretty advanced project. She was measuring the salt content from a solution and how easily that would break under pressure. Her experiment itself wasn’t really set up to be consistently measurable, but she actually talked about the molecular structures of the compounds she was using. For a twelve-year-old to be talking about the molecular structure of different salts, and how those contribute to the strength of the solution, was pretty advanced.

Hari: One student did a project called Cookie Quest—she loves cooking, and she wanted to see how different kinds of cookie sheets impacted the results of her sugar cookies. A second student studied light refraction through different liquids, and he actually brought his project in and demonstrated it. A third student looked at how wind speed affects turbine performance, and he did a great job of collecting data and measuring results. It was a solid project.

I imagine the interview portion of the event must be pretty nerve-wracking for some students. How did they do?

Cat: The interview portion was by far the cutest and most excruciating part of the experience because some of the kids were so nervous, they looked like they were about to cry!  So I tried to break the ice by telling them about my kids, and how they love science too, and then I asked them to tell me about their projects. I didn’t interrupt them, just let them go through the presentation that they had rehearsed. I also asked them what their favorite subjects are, why they like science, and what made them decide to do this particular project.

Hari: One thing I wanted to figure out is if these students were genuinely interested in their topics, or if they just did a Google search and went with the first thing they found. So I asked them, hypothetically, if they had unlimited money and advanced to the next level, would they do the same project? The student with the wind turbine project said that he wasn’t able to afford some of the equipment he would need to take his project to the next level, so if someone would fund him, he would be able to do more—different speeds, more data. That was pretty convincing.

What impression did the DC STEM Fair leave you with? Are you inspired, hopeful for the future, etc.?

Hari: It was definitely inspiring—the place was completely full on a cold Saturday morning! A lot of people showed up, including many volunteers, and there was even a robot in the lobby that some students had designed and built. The energy in the room was electric.

Cat: I agree. It was sweet to see such a diverse group of students from a lot of different backgrounds with a common innocence. They all share a love for science, and they all were very positive and excited.

Would you do it again?

Hari: Yes, it was really fun!

Cat: Yes, I love doing it. The only thing I didn’t love was that it started so early!

Thanks to you both!

Cat: Of course!

Hari: Happy to help.