Up-and-coming scientists compete at EPFL

Up-and-coming scientists compete at EPFL

On Saturday, EPFL hosted 250 budding young scientists - aged between 8 and 15 - in the fifth annual ‘Curious and Inventive’ science competition, run by the school’s Science Outreach Department.

The judge, stopwatch in hand, was ready. Nine-year-old Jules was focused. Then he expertly set his top spinning and crossed his fingers. How long would it stay up? Two minutes and forty-two seconds. That was the first round of the day’s competition, and Jules and his teammates were pretty happy with their performance. Their top spun for longer than their opponents’, who used a drill to get theirs going.

Forty-five teams came from all over French-speaking Switzerland to compete in one of three age groups. The teams comprised three or four kids from the same age group, together with a coach. Three months before the competition, the teams were all given the same experimental challenge. This year, it was to build a top that would spin for as long as possible. ‘We used really basic materials,’ said ten-year-old Eline. ‘We took a ten-centimeter-long piece of ash wood, sharpened the end with a pencil sharpener, and hammered it into a piece of fiberboard that we had cut into a round shape using a hole saw.’ Good explanation from this extremely enthusiastic team, which was competing in the middle age group.

Presenting the results of their research project
In the second round of the competition, the kids had to present the results of a scientific project that they had completed before the competition, along with their conclusions. A team from the youngest age category explained to a jury how to make various types of vortexes with different liquids and vessels. Eight-year-old Clément, backed by a diagram projected onto a screen, used his hands to illustrate the direction in which the earth rotates. Matias, also eight years old, then continued: ‘I asked my brother, who’s in Australia, to check whether vortexes really do turn the other way down there.’ His brother also participated in this competition once. ‘This interest in science runs in the family,’ said his dad, who was the team’s coach that day.

That’s just what this competition is designed to bring out: the goal is to get kids interested in science and research. ‘They may not yet have the mathematical tools to understand and model a scientific problem,’ said Andrea Fabian Montabert, who was in charge of organizing the competition. ‘But they can still come up with hypotheses, set up an experiment and improve their results through trial and error. And they can make observations and draw conclusions.’ The competition lets kids try their hand at scientific and technical experiments in the fields of physics, chemistry and biology.

Teamwork and cooperation
After taking a short quiz designed to test their general science knowledge, the competitors played a fun game that required solid teamwork. They had to cross an imaginary swamp and feed a paper crocodile - but they had to be quick and nimble and work together effectively. Professor André Châtelain, who used to run EPFL’s Experimental Physics Institute, brought the competition to a close with a short talk on scientific curiosity.

At the end of the competition, the kids all went home. But who knows, maybe they’ll be back on campus one day as students.

The results and final rankings are available here: http:// sps.epfl.ch/ChampionnatScientifique

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