Friday, April 8, 2011

Everything (Scientific) is Bigger in Texas

The finalists from among greater Houston's approximately one million (!!) school children assemble today at the George R. Brown Convention Center (aka "the GRB") to compete in the 52nd annual Science & Engineering Fair.
The exterior of this convention center,
which is as distinctive as it is massive.
The GRB covers six city blocks -
the building is about 1,570 feet long
and 400 feet wide!
Buncha buses!! 
Note that this photo-melange represents
a TINY subset of the total. 
Greater Houston has about
thirty independent school districts. 
Not thirty schools - thirty districts!!
Houston ISD,
the seventh-largest in the country,
has over 200,000 students
and a billion-dollar annual budget.
Cy-Fair ISD has about 92,000 students.
Our own ISD (Clear Creek) has 38,000 students.
The Fair is a three-day process.  Yesterday was sign-in day.
Thankfully, there were about fifty people working the sign-in desks, so no bottleneck there.
One view of the display floor, looking northwest.  Along the rear wall of the arena were troubleshooting desks and (yes) souvenir sales!!
View looking southeast from Cayley's display station.
The sign-in and set-up processes were rigorous.  The project board had to be inspected by two independent representatives of the Fair's governing board before we could exit the arena for the night.
Cayley won Clear Creek ISD first-place gold medals in Grade 4 (a wildlife investigation in 2008), Grade 5 (the famous mammoth tooth project in 2009), and Grade 6 (a prophetic pre-Deepwater Horizon oiled bird cleaning experiment in 2010).  However this year, with her fourth District medal win, is the first year she is eligible to compete in a regional fair and according to the international rules, in what is called the "Junior Division".  The whole thing is very complicated, being sponsored by a nonprofit called the Society for Science and the Public, as well as major corporate sponsor Intel.  And it's really heavy stuff: successful children at the high school level go on to compete internationally for over $4 million in prizes!!
"I'd rather be texting, thank you".

She was dressed much more formally for today's competition, but Mom is not allowed to take many photos these days, because that would be
way too uncool.
We are looking upon this year's participation as a feet-wetting experience, rather than as a bona fide competition for Cayley.  We did not build as much value into this year's project as we had done in previous years, and that was partly a deliberate decision (due to other personal considerations) and partly an involuntary decision (the vacant lot upon which the project was conducted was sold before we could fully develop the project, a turn of events that we had determined at the outset to be an acceptable risk).  It was a darned good idea for a project, but that combination of factors led to a resulting data set that we think is really too limited for advanced competition.

The project involved evaluation of different industry-standard methods for controlling sediment pollution from active construction sites, but...
...this is a picture of our former project area today!!
The experimental areas were bulldozed,
but a new family will soon be moving in next door to us!
Anyway, we are infinitely proud of Cayley for making it all the way to this regional competition!!

A few parting shots from the GRB yesterday:
They may be the area's most talented young scientists,
but they're still just kids!!
Attempted art shot inside the GRB.
The eclectic south Houston skyline
looking north from the GRB,
with historic houses backdropped by skyscrapers.

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