Science Fair

I recently had the opportunity to judge at a regional science fair consisting of some of the brightest high school students that Chicago has to offer. I must admit that I was simply blown away by some of the work and presentations that the students did. I was quite dubious at first with some of the students believing that someone must have helped them through the majority of the work but after in-depth discussions with them, all doubt was removed.

The rubric for the competition required a the use of a control. A number of experiments involved comparisons in which students simply compared sample A to sample B. Unfortunately this lack a control. Sample A should be compared to the control and sample B should be compared to the control. For some of these experiements it required a great deal of effort to devise a suitable control.

There is one particular presentation that sticks out in my mind that was attempting to show if it was justified to swtich out a batter based on the handedness of both the pitcher and batter. There are four obvious combinations to be compared: left-handed pitcher (LHP) against left-handed batter (LHB), LHP against right-handed batter (RHB), right-handed pitcher (RHP) against LHB and RHP against RHB. But where’s the control? Using confidence intervals and other statistics the student showed that switch hitters were representative of the combination of left and right handed batters! The student was then able to use switch hitters as the control. To me, this excercise alone was above and beyond what I expected that actually showing the comparison of handedness was moot.

If you have the opportunity, I recommend that you get in touch with your local school system and offer your time to either mentor these students in preparing their experiments or assist at the science fairs. It is truely a wonderful experience.


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