This was my fourth trip to DCYSC, and I thought I knew what to expect: flashy stunts, hyper kids, and a frenzy of video cameras and interviewers looking for drama and intrigue.
This year’s competition, however, was different, and I was pleasantly surprised.
The kids were still as excited as ever, but the challenges had a more scientific air. Real researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) guided students through their tasks. And many of the activities focused on issues that appear daily in the news.
In previous years, DCYSC challenges wowed participants with huge tornado-making machines, rocket-propelled go-karts, and professional skateboarders doing tricks on a half-pipe. All these challenges involved science in some way, but the special effects always seemed to take center stage.
But at NIH, science was the star of the show. I especially liked the avian-influenza challenge. It tackled a real and serious threat to public health. It allowed participants to assume important roles in a fictional community that faced a potentially disastrous emergency. And students emerged with a sense that a dedication to science could help them save lives.
As usual, when the challenges ended, the jokes, games, and parties began. Each student went home with 39 new friends and memories to last a lifetime. No half-pipes necessary.—Emily Sohn