A Day at the Fair

Last Friday, I was a judge at a student technology fair at the University of Illlinois – Chicago.  We got a free lunch and gave undergrad & grad students a chance to practice their presentation skills.  Most of the projects were quite impressive.  You could not tell the difference between the grad and undergrad.

My personal favorite was from a group of civil engineering students trying to find the most cost-efficient and effective material to fill potholes.  Turns out recycled glass is the winner on roads with little large truck traffic.  On highways, they recommend a mix of recycled tires and glass.  The key is to have a material that allows water to permeate to the sub-base, instead of staying on top of the road material or inside the cracks.

A psychology student studied worrying and found that when people worry, they use very abstract images and have difficulty using words to express their feelings.  If you are having positive or neutral thoughts, you can easily access language to express those feelings.

The project with the most potential impact on humanity was from an orthodontic grad student.  He and his team were studying a gene and discovered that it was a trigger gene for bone mineral development.  If damage occurs to the gene, other genes are also affected and bone loss occurs.  Manipulation of this gene could lead to therapies for osteoperosis and other bone diseases.

Most of the students clearly put a lot of effort into their studies and presentations.  Trying to win the $300 grand prize.  On the science side, you got a great feel for where people are researching:  gene therapies, Alzheimers, and basic cancer research.  The students were very appreciative for the feedback and to have a friendly audience.