STEM Competition Season Wraps Up With Winners All Around

A series of STEM competitions recently wrapped up, with winners all around.

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It's the end of the school year, which means the end of lots of national STEM competitions. Within the past few weeks, contests such as the Intel Science Fair, MATHCOUNTS, and the National STEM Education Video Game Challenge have wrapped up. Here's what you missed.

Jack Andraka of Crownsville, Md., won the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair for his new, noninvasive pancreatic cancer screening method. His test is similar to a diabetes test and is more than 90 percent accurate at diagnosing early stage pancreatic cancer. He says the test could one day be used to detect ovarian and lung cancers.

Ari Dyckovsky of Leesburg, Va., is working on quantum teleportation, a technology that would allow information to be shared without actually being transmitted—it would literally be teleported from one location to another.

Nichola Schiefer of Canada developed a search engine that can quickly scan through tweets and Facebook status updates. Both Schiefer and Dyckovsky won $50,000 scholarships for their work, Andraka won the grand prize of $75,000.

Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation, says that more than 1,500 students made it to the finals. Over the past few years, an increasing number of students are focusing on environmental and sustainable-energy projects, and the science they're doing can be game-changing. Many students end up patenting their projects and continuing to their research.

"They're regarded as peers by professional scientists," she says.

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In Florida, Chad Qian, an eighth-grader at Indianapolis's Sycamore School, won the national MATHCOUNTS competition, a spelling bee-like competition for math students. Qian topped more than 200 other finalists after falling just short last year.

"I wasn't disappointed because I still knew I'd have this year," Qian says of his previous finish. "My heart was beating really quickly, but everyone said I didn't look nervous."

Qian won an $8,000 college scholarship and a trip to U.S. Space Camp.

Pam Erickson, vice president of community relations for Raytheon, which sponsors the competition, says more than 100,000 students compete in regional MATHCOUNTS competitions each year. Qian is the second returning finalist to win MATHCOUNTS in the last two years.

"They're an important part of this," Erickson says of returning mathletes. "They're treated like celebrities when they go back to their schools," so more of their peers will hopefully take an interest in STEM.

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Chevron partnered with Project Lead the Way, which designs a project-based learning curriculum for STEM students, on the Engineering Design Challenge, a contest that tasked 91 teams with designing a cooler that celebrated the Golden Gate Bridge's 75th anniversary.

A team from Santana High School near San Diego took home laptops for their design, which incorporated a clock/radio, solar cells, and wheels.

"We have football playoffs, but we have nothing where kids can show off their mental skills, show off that kind of learning," says Janet Auer, specialist of global partnerships and programs at Chevron. "This is like the football playoffs for the nerds."

Complete with a countdown clock. Students had just a couple of hours to design their coolers, which put a sports-like feel into the contest, according to the winning team.

"There's a lot more stress involved when you only have a few hours to work on the design," says Brandon Killian, one of the winning students. The team members say the challenge makes them think in more real-world terms than their classes do.

"You have to schedule your time and make sacrifices in your design—there's a time crunch," Trevor Homquist says. Project Lead the Way classes prepared them for the challenge because the curriculum gives students real-life challenges to solve rather than making them sit through long lectures, says Vince Bertram, president of the organization.

"Our mission as an organization is to prepare students for a global economy," he says. "What we continually see is that our kids do better. They're outperforming their peers, and we're seeing that on a consistent basis."

There are Project Lead the Way curricula in more than 4,000 middle and high schools in all 50 states, serving more than 500,000 children.

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Finally, 28 middle and high school students won prizes at the National STEM Video Game Challenge, a competition that tasked students with designing and building educational games that teach STEM.

Topics covered by the games include math inequalities, conservation, evolution, medicine, and recycling. Most students built their games using Gamestar Mechanic or Kodu, two design tools that don't require intense coding skills.