Stanley Liu’s love for the field of microfluidics began with the toys of his childhood, equipment his mechanical engineer father would bring home from work. Science fairs became a way for the two to bond over the years, as Liu began to research scientific questions on his own.
Like many budding scientists, the Arcadia High junior was concerned that the L.A. County Science and Engineering Fair might join a growing list of cancelled events last week as the novel coronavirus epidemic worsened.
Instead, organizers moved at full tilt to submit and judge the fair’s 465 science projects online.
For his project that developed a device capable of pinpointing biomarkers associated with disease in human blood plasma, Liu, 16, won second place in his category and became a finalist for the International Science and Engineering Fair.
“They could have easily gone the easy way out, but they stuck it out for the kids and held the fair knowing what it would mean to someone like me,” said Liu. “I think it really reflects the sort of compassion and care of the community and the organizers, who are all volunteers.”
Nishat Alikhan, president of the fair, said she and other organizers were debating whether to close mid-March as large gatherings were prohibited and schools began to close. Ultimately, they decided to preserve all the normalcy they could and go virtual — not that they knew how to do it yet.
“None of us are particularly tech-y people,” said Alikhan, but she worked with others to develop a Google form for kids to submit recorded videos, research papers and photos of display boards.
They rolled out guidelines just days before the March 19 deadline, receiving a flood of submissions in the last couple days. Meetings with dozens of volunteer judges were held via Zoom, some with more than 100 participants and others in smaller breakout sessions.
“It was huge and it was very messy but it was the first time in our 70 year history we were able to do something like this,” she said. “At the end of the day we were able to award 102 awards between 3rd 2nd 1st places in 36 different categories.”
This year, every participant received a medal in recognition of their work. Alikhan suspects that some of the online methods worked so well that they may carry on to next year — a normal fair draws between 750 to 1,000 project submissions.
In a time when schools closed and distance learning had yet to get fully underway, she said many of the most motivated students expressed thanks to have an extra-curricular that carried on amid the burgeoning crisis.
“We had a kid who emailed us and said everything’s closed, this is the first morning I’ve gotten up with purpose,” said Alikhan, getting emotional. “It reminded me of that Roosevelt quote. ‘Do what you can with what you have where you are.’ So I was like, you know, we’re going to figure this out and forge ahead because this is science.”
The international science fair, to which Liu’s project was nominated, has been cancelled. So he won’t get to show off a device that can use bubble-induced micro-streaming to capture and separate the blood cells from a blood sample.
But Liu is taking the disappointment in stride.
“I like to think of things on the bright side, so I should be positive that I was nominated in the first place” he said. “I’m grateful it even happened.”
- Substantial undocumented infection facilitates the rapid dissemination of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) – Science Magazine
- England coronavirus testing has not risen fast enough – science chief – The Guardian
- Coronavirus Tests Science’s Need for Speed Limits – The New York Times
- Trump Falsely Distorts New York Times COVID-19 Science Story – FactCheck.org
- This is the brightest supernova ever seen – Science Magazine
- Coronavirus Today: Science will save us – Los Angeles Times
- Italians stuck at home are measuring light pollution for ‘science on the balcony’ – TechCrunch
- ‘Oumuamua might be a shard of a broken planet – Science News
- College of Arts and Science converts thriving academic programs to departments – Vanderbilt University News