Judging Science

The Ohio State Science Day (science fair) was yesterday.  This was the 68th edition.  Not such a long time in the grander scheme of things.  But it is becoming a fine tradition.

The Ohio Soybean Council has been participating several years now as an award sponsor.  I have had the pleasure of assisting OSC as a Sponsored Judge.  And to get right to the punch line – there are some amazing young folk doing amateur science here in the Midwest.


The State science fair is the final event here.  To be able to participate students have to have placed very highly at both their local and their district level science fairs.  Grades 5 through 12 are represented, and individuals as well as teams are included.  The high school seniors (12th grade) can even win college scholarships.

The event is held in the French Field House (an indoor track and field stadium) on the campus of Ohio State University.  An arena sized space, with a floor holding more than 800 projects.  This year parents and friends were allowed to attend and watch from the bleachers along the south wall.  Not sure exactly what the parents witnessed from the distance, but perhaps knowing your folks are in the house might give comfort when perfect strangers come up and needle you about details of a project you’ve poured your heart and soul into.

In order to maintain some decorum and keep the house in order the Academy has a loud speaker set up to communicate with the crowd.  I’ll suppose there were about 1,000 budding scientists, about 350 judges, and perhaps another thousand friends and family on the bleachers.  Projects are packed together in quite close quarters and judging can be going on simutaneously between neighboring projects – and frequently is.  It is a loud environment.  Hearing the voice of a timid 8th grader who is thrust into this environment for the first time can be a challenge.  To make matters more complicated, the loud speaker might come on at any moment to share some special information with the house.

Imagine for a second you are just this 8th grade scientist – you have just finished making your prepared comments of overview for your project and are attempting to answer a question for this gray haired ol’ curmudgeon of a judge when the loud speaker goes off and the announcement is to the effect:

Will the gray haired ol’ curmudgeon from the OSC please come to the Academy desk by the front entrance.

[they actually used my name, AND repeated it].  I must have had some mortified look, for as I was making my apologies to explain that the person they sought was me it appeared she already understood.  I should also point out here that the OSC had over thirty-five projects to judge and even with a half dozen judges there is no time to lose visiting with the Academy in mid judgment.  And what could this be about?  I know I parked in an approved spot.  I displayed the Sponsored Judge parking pass on the front of the car, I signed in, I have my ID badge… then all the potentially horrible family stories flash through your mind…  I meet a fellow OSC judge as I rush for the front.  “What could it be?”, she asks.  “I’ve no idea”.  But next I reach back to check for my wallet, and it’s not there.  I’m at the front desk within a minute and a woman comes up to meet me with my wallet in her hand.  “You’re pretty lucky”, she said.  And it’s true, I was pretty lucky.  But somehow, luck wasn’t the feeling that had championed the moment.

In the lead up to the actual judging they had us gathered in St John Arena, next door to the field house.  The little wooden chairs they provide are just the sort that steal wallets from gray haired ol’ curmudgeons.  I should have been prepared.

Later yesterday my wife and I were at an unrelated event in town and a friend came up to me and with his hands up to his mouth imitated a loud speaker calling for me to come to the Academy desk.  I just shook my head.  “So one of your kids was at the science fair?”.  His middle son was there, and he was in the bleachers along the south wall.  No matter how big this world gets, it is always small enough at times to keep you guessing.

Congratulations to all the students at State Science Day.  You are an inspiration to all, and your patience with gray haired ol’ curmudgeons who can’t even keep track of their wallets is especially appreciated.



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