It’s the kind of event that brings back memories of your own days at high school, when you might have tackled a science project.

You know the drill — a three-sided tabletop display that outlined an idea, how it was tested and the results. For most of us, that might have been the pinnacle of our scientific work, but for 25,000 Canadian school children this past year, they worked to have their projects judged in regional science fairs and now more than 400 of them are in Ottawa to compete in the national finals.

On the line is a chance at a portion of $1 million in cash and scholarships. It has been 46 years since this national gathering of our next generation of scientists took place in Ottawa. But back in 1962, it was the first time ever for this event.

Reni Barlow is executive director of the Youth Science Foundation, which organizes the regional and national fairs. He’s a former science teacher and some of his students made it to the national event. He says many of Canada’s top scientists, such as astronaut Roberta Bondar, were once science fair competitors.

Event judges often comment that the work they are seeing at the fair is in fact at the university level. The event’s chief judge, Dr. Leonard Kleine, a University of Ottawa professor, says it’s exciting to see these young people who may not have all the scientific knowledge, but they have the curiosity and the drive to ask questions.

I had the chance to go to the fair this week and talk to a lot of teens who are wise beyond their years and intense about their science.

Many are budding entrepreneurs, like Gary Kurek, the young inventor from Bonnyville, Alta., who hopes to patent his electrical power kit that turned a walker for his grandmother into a low-cost wheelchair.

Or Leah Smith and Chantal Sheaves, of Halifax, who believe they can develop a flotation device for snowmobiles to keep them from sinking if they break through ice. Her great-grandfather had the original idea but never developed it.

At the national event there are sponsorships for the talented ones, there are mentors for some, but the vast majority use their own brain power and that of friends and family and maybe a teacher to delve into a raft of subjects from the environment, to space, from rockets, to bridges, from web browsers to robots. The winners will be announced tomorrow. The public can visit the displays Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at Montpetit Hall, at uOttawa.

Website of the week: for more details on the national science fair ongoing in Ottawa.


Paul Brent hosts Tech Now every Sunday as part of CTV Ottawa’s News at 6 p.m. Tech Now looks at the Capital’s technology sector along with the global industry.