The DC STEM Network manages the DC STEM Fair, and sends the top three high school winners to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF). The DC delegation competed against 1,700 students in the 2017 Intel ISEF. This is part two of three student experiences from the top three winners of the Secondary DC STEM Fair 2017. This second guest blog is from Hannah Doctor-Loeb, who is a rising senior at School Without Walls. Check out our first blog in the series!

Hannah in front of her project board at Intel ISEF.

Our journey began early Sunday morning. We left BWI before the sun had even risen, had a quick layover in San Diego, and before we knew it we arrived at LAX. We quickly went to the hotel to drop off our luggage, and then headed to the convention center. First, we got registered and  proceeded to the exhibit hall to set up. Walking in, I was overwhelmed. The room was huge and full of students running back and forth between their projects. A station called “The Hub,” in the middle of the room contained supplies such as double-sided tape, exact-o-knives, and pins. I made my way to my designated area, and spent the next two hours setting up. While setting up, I became acquainted with my fellow participants whose booths were located on either side of me. To my left was a boy from Missouri who had attended five different international science fairs, and actually won first place in the Microbiology category. To my right was a girl from Brazil, who also competed last year. They both shared stories of what to expect for the week, and I couldn’t wait for it to begin.

As soon as Sam and Isabel finished setting up, we headed back to the hotel for a quick break before the pin exchange. In this activity all the delegates traded pins from their home state, country, or district, as in our case. Although many participants just wanted to get our “legendary DC pins” and leave, we managed to have conversations with some of the delegates (Isabel and I spent some time speaking with Swiss delegates, which was funny considering we spent the previous day having lunch at their ambassador’s house).It was quite amazing to see all the countries represented at ISEF, and by the end of the night I had collected pins from all over the world.

Hannah points to her name on the Intel ISEF wall.

The next day we decided to be true tourists, spending the day at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Chinese Theater, and the Griffith Observatory. However, we weren’t the only participants at the convention with this idea. Everywhere we went, we met at least one group of INTEL ISEF finalists, complete with various science-themed shirts and the INTEL ISEF 2017 drawstring bag. I was amazed at how many people had traveled this far to compete.

That night at the Opening Ceremony, we were welcomed to the event by Intel’s president, Rosalind Hudnell, and Maya Ajmera, the President of Society for Science and the Public.

We also heard from Manu Prakash, an entrepreneur whose work is devoted to ensuring science is accessible to everyone. His entire speech was quite interesting, but my favorite line came at the end of his speech.

“Science is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

This idea stuck with me for the rest of the trip. As I presented my project during Judging Day, I remembered how much time it took to put my project together. I had spent the first half of the year getting trained in qPCR, RNA isolations, and more. At first, I had trouble taking my time, and made a few mistakes along the way. However, over time I learned that science is left best unrushed- just like Prakash had said during his speech.

Looking around at other student projects, I saw the same principle applied. The boy from Missouri had spent a year trying to get a certified lab built in his basement to conduct his research. One girl at the conference was on her sixth year of studying algal biofuels! Science takes time, and I’m glad I had the opportunity and time to perform my scientific research.

SA ceremonyThe week went by in a flash, and soon we found ourselves at the Awards Ceremonies. First was the Special Awards Ceremony, where one of our delegates (Sam) won two awards, representing one of the first times a DC delegate won anything at INTEL! We were all super proud of him.

The next morning was the Grand Awards ceremony. Although it was slightly disappointing that no one from DC placed, I knew that the experience was more important than placing. INTEL ISEF 2017 was such a great experience and I look forward to seeing what will come of the great projects presented over time!


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