Chicago Science Fair 2017

“The 2017 Student Science Fair follows the theme, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: Connecting Global Innovations. Approximately 300 students from a total of 10,000 participants will be selected for exhibit their projects and symposium papers (…) 70 of those students will be sent to the Illinois Junior Academy State Science Fair (…) an 4 students will be sent to the International Science and Engineering Fair.” – Rahm Emanuel. Proclamation from the Mayor of the City of Chicago, Feb 15 2017.


Last week I spent my Friday at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) for this year’s Science Fair: joined team of high school judges in the Computer Science category and, once again, was impressed with the student’s projects. So, hearty congratulations are in order for:

  • “How Safe is Our Technology From Hackers” by Isisel Badillo-Matiaz
  • “Battlecode” by Liam Schumm
  • “Geo-Wrapping” by Vivian Auduong
  • “Overclock” by Omar Rivera

I would also like to thank the Student Science Fair (SSF) organization for the plaque issued in my fifth year of service. Nokia’s team of judges involved four of us:

  • Edward Davis
  • Jose de Francisco
  • Olivia D. Evans
  • Joseph Schuyler


We used two different Judging Score Rubrics: a conventional score sheet and a newer one for design projects. Interestingly enough, the later seeks to evaluate the degree to which the design process and resulting application prototype zeroes in on a real world problem. It also points to an interactive flow including: user testing, conventional and unconventional data sets, changes and performance gains during the project… all part of any continuous improvement methodology. Other relevant aspects focused on novelty, creativity, and awareness of other designs addressing the same need.

Embracing the transformational role of Design in Science is definitely a step in the right direction. Leading by example and by applying the “continuous improvement” practice to the Science Fair’s own needs, one can only be hopeful about future developments to best leverage what Design Thinking and Soft Systems methodologies have to offer. This should develop in a more careful attention to User Centered Design (UCD) and specific efforts and techniques to humanize technology as part of the Computer Science projects.

Communication skills also happen to be key in Chicago’s Science Fair. Judges look at the quality of the delivery, which speaks volumes about the researcher’s understanding of the problem statement and the relative impact of a given design solution. As Einstein used to put it: “if you cannot explain it simple, you don’t understand it well enough.”  Let’s keep in mind that “innovation” takes hold only when the “invention” has been accepted by the stakeholders and adopted by users. That being another good example of the role of addressing Human Factors in engineering.


“This fair will not only present the students the opportunity to display their knowledge of substantial developments in the areas such as aerospace science, physics, and mathematics (…) but also make room for the development of crucial analytical and critical skills. Additionally, the process from the beginning of research to the culminating presentation builds confidence and experience that will be beneficial throughout their burgeoning academic and professional careers.” – Rahm Emanuel.

“Imagine your work here, through digital connections, assists professionals across the oceans to cure, contain, improve lives or the environment. You are living during some of the most exciting times in the history of humanity. Keep questions coming and keep seeking the answers to them.” – Elizabeth S. Cooper, 2017 Student Science Fair Chairperson.


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