By Jay Fidell
Wow. The Science Fair this week is better than ever, and just bowls me over. What a crowd, what community and political support, and what incredible kids. If you didn’t get there yet, you missed out. You can go on Wednesday, even though the main speeches were on Tuesday morning.
Bruce Anderson spoke. He’s the president of the Science Fair and its parent the Hawaii Academy of Science (organized in 1925). Governor Neil Abercrombie spoke and so did science entrepreneur Dr. Hank Wu. The incoming president of the HAS, Dr. Neal Atebara, a Science Fair alumnus himself, also spoke. He’s great.
The Science Fair defined Neal Atebara’s life. He won and winning gave him the confidence to know that he was capable of science, competition and excellence, and that opened personal doors for him. He became an opthamologist and has a busy practice in POB I, but he spends tons of time on the Fair.
Go. It’s at the Convention Center, five minutes away from anywhere in the CBD. The parking is only $5, and it’s worth lots more than that. The kids are unbelievable. First, they’re kids who have trained themselves to present their projects. That alone makes it a worthwhile experience. They try so hard and you really need to listen and engage. Ask them lots of questions, and they will answer you.
They are very smart and committed to science. It’s more than just a class or extra-curricular activity. They know it means a lot to win the Science Fair. It could redefine their lives, catapult them. So they really get into it, sometimes in small groups, which are delightful, but mostly alone, focused like lasers.
They’re so creative, and they are still young enough to think in a purely creative form. Some of their experiments are teenage autobiographical, but others are absolutely world class right up there with scientific thinking and discoveries in the best universities, and all in the passion of youth. Yes, it’s true. It’s hard for me to express how impressive some of them are. They talk, you are transfixed.
I met a couple of kids like that. You know they will succeed in ways few people do. They’re prodigies. I met a one young lady who had come from Taiwan. She was into geometry. She loved geometry. The exhibit behind her had incredibly complex geometric forms and huge algebraic expressions.
She wasn’t taking prisoners. She owned this work, and she could explain everything there, in drill down detail, without hesitation. An academic on the mainland knew her work and had named three new geometric shapes for her. She enjoys academic fame even in high school. I asked her where she would go to college, Harvard, Yale, MIT, what? All those seemed appropriate. She said no, she was going back to Taipei for college, then maybe to graduate schools back in the U.S.
Charming isn’t the word. Maybe more like spellbinding. She was one in a million, and also quite modest. The power of her intellect was tangible, and we all know that she will succeed on a global scale. What’s spellbinding about it is that she’s a local product, grown in the nutrition of our islands.
I stumbled into another kid who was working on delivery agents for chemotherapy drugs. Again, the chemistry on her exhibit was mind-boggling, but from looking at it you could tell what kind of special kid this was. When I asked her to present, she started shy but in a few minutes she was rattling off scientific concepts in a fire hydrant of brilliance at me.
I must say I couldn’t understand most of what she was saying, but I was smiling to my core, hearing about her work, no holds barred, being the recipient of her presentation. What a lovely experience. We teach them, but they teach us. Through these kids, we can extend our understanding of the universe, expand our consciousness, improve our society and our lives. Who is the greater beneficiary?
There were so many kids that were memorable. They lined the aisles of the Fair and they turned your head as you walked through, surrounding you with a gauntlet of science and achievement beyond their years. I was taking video of these interactions, and also of the interviews I had with the officials, the Science Fair judges and celebrity judges and friends who came around this morning.
All of us were participating in this special phenomenon, a kind of reunion, bathed joyfully in the light of their ardor, grace and engagement, with so many gifts and surprises. We were all so lucky to be there. And I have the tape to prove it. I’ll make an OC16 program out of it in a week or two. You’ll see.
And that’s what gets to me about lots of these kids. They are the products of Hawaii’s society. Their parents, teachers, mentors and friends help them, uplift them to new levels of personal excellence and life changing self-confidence. So while we criticize the institutions of DOE and all that, remember there are lots of kids here that are downright unbelievable.
Maybe it’s the water or the air in Hawaii but more likely the special social island diversity thing we have. It’s the same thing that made Barack Obama a global citizen. It’s something specially Hawaii and precious. Whatever it is, we have it still. Now we have to bottle it and make it work on a larger scale.
We have to have more kids reach these levels. We know they can. They Science Fair shows us all things, great things, are possible for Hawaii. Some 650 kids from every corner of the state presented the results of their scientific efforts, but why not every kid in every school? Science can be, should be, for everyone, as in China. It would help them, and us, and Hawaii. A great state is built on great science.
It’s always a surprise to go to the Science Fair and see these excellent kids and this process. Let’s make the Science Fair bigger. Let’s have it permeate the system and the community. We need to fund it again, like we did until we suddenly stopped in 2010. It’s a great collaboration between the schools, the parents and academia. We should expand it to every school and kid, to let them see and reach their true potential.
You should go, Wednesday maybe, and see what I mean. You’ll have shock and awe. You’ll feel the power. The awards will be given on Wednesday evening. You’ll be delighted and surprised and you’ll want every single kid to succeed and do it more. You’ll find appreciation for those who help them, and you’ll feel good about their parents. You’ll find new faith in Hawaii, and about our lives together in these islands. They are us and we are them. Go, partake in the phenomenon - it's medicinal.
I so look forward to the end of all this recession and austerity, since then, hopefully, the legislature will remember its duty to provide funding for this magnificent organization with such a big heart. Its future is their future and that of course is our future.