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A championship to stimulate budding scientists

Jules, 9, operates his top, under the watchful eye of his teammates and the judge. © Alain Herzog / EPFL 2017

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A championship to stimulate budding scientists

Some 250 budding scientists between the ages of 8 and 15 gathered on the EPFL campus on Saturday for the 5th “Curious and Inventive” science championship. Each year, these scientific jousts are organized by the Department of Science Promotion of the School.

The judges have their chronometer well in hand. Jules, 9, is concentrating. At the top, he operates his top and crosses his fingers. How long will it run? For the first event of the day, Jules and his teammates are rather satisfied. Their spinning top held 2 minutes and 42 seconds, longer than their competitors who had brought a drill to give the impetus to rotate their top.

The 45 teams participating in the 5th science championship come from all French-speaking Switzerland and are composed of three to four children from the same age group and a coach. During the three months preceding the competition, they had to meet an experimental challenge, making a top capable of spinning as long as possible. “We used simple materials,” explains Eline, 10. A 10 centim. Ash wooden stick, with one end cut to the pencil sharpener which we hammered on a MDF (wood fiber board) washer cut with a bell saw. “Detailed explanations and a lot of” Enthusiasm for this team in the Cadets category.

As a speaker

In another room, a team of Poussins explains to a jury how to form different vortices, depending on the liquid or container selected. In this second event, the children become real speakers who come to present results and conclusions of a scientific project, realized in advance. Aided by a schema projected on a white screen, Clément, 8, applies to mimic the direction of rotation of the earth with his hands. Matias, 8, continues: “I asked my brother who is in Australia to check if the eddies really turn the other way over there.” A brother who had participated in a previous edition of the championship. “The interest in science is present in our family,” says his father, who became the team’s coach for the day.

And that is precisely the purpose of these championships. According to the organizers, the competition is set up to give children and young people a taste for scientific reflection and research. “They do not yet have the mathematical tools to understand and model a problem,” explains Andrea Fabian Montabert, head of the competition. But they can already speculate, do an experimental editing and improve it to test leads. They are able to make observations and draw conclusions “. It is in this perspective that the championship offers young girls and boys to undertake scientific and technical tests in the fields of physics, chemistry or biology.

Cohesion and team spirit

After a short theoretical quiz testing their general scientific knowledge, competitors have yet to participate in a fun game that puts their team spirit to strain. Agility, speed and good group cohesion were necessary to cross the imaginary marsh and feed the paper crocodile. And to close the day, Professor André Châtelain, former director of the Institute of Experimental Physics, gave a lecture on scientific curiosity.

Once the championship was over, the children left the EPFL campus. But who knows, maybe once they have grown up, they will come back this time as a student …

source: The Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)

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