A first science fair

Written by: C. Titus Brown

Primary Source: Living in an Ivory Basement

So my daughter just participated in her first science fair, at the age of 6. (“Conclusion: science can be fun! and sticky!”)

Over dinner, my wife and I came up with some ideas for her next fair. She was having trouble dissolving sugar in ice water, so we suggested maybe something where we measured the effect of temperature on sugar dissolution in water.

Our daughter then came up with her own idea for experiments, involving many different sugar amounts dissolved in lemonade and a test of the resulting sweetness. (It sounded suspiciously self-serving, frankly, but as long as she files the right Conflict of Interest forms, I have no problem with that.)

I suggested crowdsourcing it, by doing a double-blind study and asking our neighbors to score the lemonade. I said I knew a guy, Ethan Perlstein, that could probably give her some advice. But either way I told her that if she wanted funding, she’d have to do a write up of her idea before anyone would consider it. Fair’s fair — we have many demands on our time and attention. (And heck, if it was crazy enough, maybe she could farm it to the Sloan Foundation.)

My wife then said, “Taking the joy out of science as soon as possible, eh?” I acknowledged the point and told our daughter, “Don’t worry about it too much; we’ll talk about it more at your annual review.”

I didn’t bring up the issue of high impact publications. There’s time for that when she’s seven.


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C. Titus Brown
C. Titus Brown is an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. He earned his PhD ('06) in developmental molecular biology from the California Institute of Technology. Brown is director of the laboratory for Genomics, Evolution, and Development (GED) at Michigan State University. He is a member of the Python Software Foundation and an active contributor to the open source software community. His research interests include computational biology, bioinformatics, open source software development, and software engineering.