Back when I was in school (many eons ago) I remember the annual science fair project. Gathered in the kitchen with my mother, we planned to be unique, creative and inspiring. What resulted was the baking soda volcano…with bedazzles! Apparently, that’s what a lot of other students in my class did as well; but at least I had bedazzles.
While many people think of baking soda volcanoes as science fair entries, there are (luckily) other students from around the world inventing products and thinking of ideas that will save the planet, cure diseases, break world records and change how we see the human body and our environment.
Produced by National Geographic, Science Fair dives headfirst into the lives and minds of remarkable students who are actively changing the world one science fair entry at a time.
Focusing on The annual International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), filmmakers Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster travel the world to give us a small idea of the remarkable minds who would laugh at the thought of my baking soda volcano…even with bedazzles.
Invigorating, enlightening and cutthroat, Science Fair is an insightful documentary that highlights a range of personalities and backgrounds all fueled by love and unique understanding of science. Spanning across the global, Kentucky is where we meet Anjali, a proud fourteen year-old high-schooler who is a self-described Type-A personality with mental fortitude, competitiveness and confidence to scare most adults. Anjali has developed a sensor to detect arsenic in drinking water, collecting samples from her town.
High school seniors Ryan, Harsha and Abraham (Anjali’s schoolmates) are not your stereotypical science lovers. Ryan who spends his time as a programmer is a relaxed carefree surfer dude while Harsha is a lover of Trap music.
In Jericho, NY, Dr. Serena McCall is a hardworking dedicated teacher who whips her students into shape, guiding them through the ISEF’s many rules. She is strict, unmoving but cares deeply for her students, even sacrificing her happiness and free time for them. She is teacher, mother and confidante to her students. As a result, she turns out repeated winners.
In Brookings, South Dakota, Kashfiya is invisible in her football obsessed school. Shy and feeling out-of-place, she is one of the few Muslim student roaming the halls. Unlike the students in Jericho, there no science labs, no mentors. Instead she relies on the support of the school’s football coach who admits to being confused by Kashfiya’s projects but supports her nonetheless. Armed with determination, she is studying adolescent rick behaviors such as drinking and drug abuse by studying brain waves.
In Brazil we met Myllena and Gabriel work to save their poverty-stricken village from the Zika virus. Unlike the students from Jericho, NY or even Brookings there are limited-to-no resources. They work together to put an end to the virus that has attacked their country. Despite their setbacks, their hope doesn’t stop shining.
Science Fair is gripping and inspiring as it takes us through the process of rules, the cycle of display boards, the dread of the Scientific Review Committee who can disqualify and approve a project in seconds. However, the best lesson from the documentary is showing has vastly different students learn.
Robbie from West Virginia would be considered a slacker student. He has no interest in learning the classroom, and while his parents were originally frustrated at their son’s attitude towards traditional learning they can’t help but chuckle at their son’s ability to turn any machine (including calculators) into their own independent learning machine. Classified as “machine creativity” he can reprogram a calculator to learn Shakespearean insults and curse words, he’s even taught a group of computers to create new Kanye West lyrics.
Science Fair is inspiring and impressive as Costantini and Foster has created a suspenseful documentary that embeds itself into the lives of these students will never becoming overwhelming. Much like Spellbound, Science Fair will shock, impress and educate its audience while teaching us the importance of the sciences, the wonderful contributions of immigrants and power of support the young minds of the future.