We Can Relax, Science is in Good Hands

By Bill Hagel

Judging science projects.This was my first science fair, either as a judge or a participant. My love of science didn’t germinate until late in my freshman year at college.  I started as a poli-sci major and…THUNK. Oh sorry, I still fall asleep just thinking about Dr. Manoogian’s lectures on the Law of the Sea Conference.

So I was a late bloomer – but here I was at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) as a judge with the awesome responsibility of helping select the winner of EPA’s Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award.

“Smile and keep walking or it’ll break your heart,” fellow EPA judge Melissa cautions me one last time in what has to be a fake English accent because it’s too perfect.  “Don’t worry, I raised two boys, I know how to handle teenagers” I retorted.

We gather around a young girl from Kentucky.  She snaps to attention with a big smile and starts to explain why she thinks she has found a more efficient way to generate electricity from river bottom mud.  She dives into the research, explains the technology, defends the science and happily answers any questions.  It’s one thing to read an abstract and look at a poster created by a 16 year old, but it’s a revelation to have them explain in detail the scientific method, research objectives and null hypothesis right before your eyes.

As we move to the next presenter I look up into the faces of these brilliant kids lining both sides of the aisle.  I want to see and hear each and every project, but there is no time. Each eager young mind I pass, my heart breaks as Melissa promised.  But there is a job to do.

We listen to a young man from Arizona discuss his innovation for a Sterling Engine using imbricated compression.  We are impressed by a young lady from New Orleans who is trying to re-design solar panels by replacing the p-n junction with a single semiconductor.  We hear from kid from Texas who cooked up some iron nanoparticles made from household materials to enhance a conventional sand filter that adsorbs arsenic in contaminated drinking water.  He wanted to make sure those in poorer countries exposed to naturally-occurring arsenic contaminated groundwater could make the filter at home.

The more I listened the more I became encouraged.  If these amazing young people at ISEF are the next generation of scientist and researchers, we are in good hands.  Now we just have to find a way to get them to work for EPA.

About the Author: Bill Hagel is EPA Region 3’s Superfund and Technology Liaison in the Agency’s Regional Science Program.  He has a well-balanced 16 years at EPA and 16 years in environmental consulting. His varied experience makes him appreciate the mission and people of EPA all the more.

Editor’s note: Click here to read the press release announcing EPA’s winner.