What a breath of fresh, intellectual and hopeful air it is to journey along the challenging road to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair at the Convention Center in Los Angeles.
The filmmakers (Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster) have selected nine candidates amongst the 1700 finalists and followed their progress from Germany, Brazil, the U.S. into the stress-filled final day of judging.
The projects are as diverse as the students themselves, ranging from a ZIKA virus “stopper”, to a new model stethoscope, A.I. machine creativity solutions and a flying wing refit vastly improving on the early 20s model.
Past winners, notably Jack Andraka (Best of Fair when just 15), ably reflect on what this Olympics of science felt like then and still means today.
The scientific mentors/cheerleaders/coaches include Jericho New York’s Dr. McCalla who would rather spend her off time encouraging her budding scientists than go out on a date and Brookings South Dakota’s 0-9 football coach Schmidt who, incongruously, suddenly has a winner on his hands in a field he most certainly doesn’t understand.
Diversity is as rampant as the projects are singular and game changing. Given the numbers involved, most participants will not win, but, hopefully, come away from their experience wiser than many of the rest of us.
The superb cinematography and inventive editing, keep the pace moving steadily forward, infused with a palpable sense of drama as the final decisions are announced.
Happily, thankfully, there are also several moments when these “nerds” with big ideas let their hair down, listening to favourite charts, surviving prom night, or dancing the hours away with their international competitors/colleagues.
Practising their pitches and painstakingly preparing their poster boards is also a key feature, for—as many can attest—”just” having a great idea or breakthrough matters naught if it can’t succinctly be expressed in words, graphs and images.
The first ISEF was held in 1942 and has been a career-launching event ever since. The notion that “good ideas can come from anywhere” is most certainly a veritable truth.
But, perhaps, the takeaway for thoughtful viewers might be that after all these decades of youthful energy and invention, why does the planet still suffer from the increasingly worrisome effects of scientific discovery instead of making the world a safer, healthier place? Somewhere along the way, the allure of recognition, cash and material rewards has pushed the goal of a better environment for everyone to the back burner, more intent with creating the “next big thing.” JWR