Christopher Mowers, Muhammad Abu-Rmaileh and Joshua Hammer pay close attention to host Rhonda Reist at the 2007 DiscoverEducation and 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Discovery Communications, 2007

Introduction to How the Young Scientist Challenge Works

All of us have taken a science class at one time or another. Some recall science with feelings of excitement, wonder and awe. Some continue their studies in science throughout the rest of their education. And some even take their love of all things science and make a career out of it. But for many, science is not a happy subject. Do you think back to studying science and get a feeling of dread, anxiety or fear? When did you lose interest in science -- sometime around middle school? Well, you're not alone.

­Studies have shown that an interest in science is either piqued or lost in middle school [source: National Science Teachers Association]. Think back to that time in your life. It probably wasn't the best time, was it? That time is full of awkwardness, pain and peer pressure. At that age, children begin to really grow and mature. And in doing that, they begin to find out what they're really interested in. But children are also extremely impressionable, and their friends may not like the interests they're developing. Let's face it -- science and math aren't the most glamorous subjects around, and kids don't want to seem uncool. So they give up science and move on to study other things.

But those kids who give up science and math miss so much that it's nearly impossible for them to catch up to their peers. So educators are taking a proactive stance and doing everything they can to keep interests high -- they want science and math to be cool again. But it's not just teachers that are noticing the danger of losing students. Corporations are, too. After all, if no one is studying science, who's going to come to work for them one day? Two companies are even partnering to promote science nationally. Discovery Education and 3M have come together to present a national science competition, Young Scientist Challenge.

The yellow team's Christopher Mowers and Bethany Johnson work on "The Hot and Cold Of It" chemistry challenge at the Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Discovery Communications, 2007

How does this challenge work? Who can participate, and how do students get started? Read on to find out how you can become a young scientist.

The yellow team's Catherine Soto works on a solution to "The Hot and Cold of It," while Muhammad Abu-Rmaileh, Josh Hammer and Chris Mowers look on at the 2007 Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge at the University of Maryland.

Discovery Communications, 2007

The Young Scientist Challenge from the Beginning

The challenge began in 1999 after Discovery Communications noticed the waning interest in science. After reading the studies about middle school children, it wanted to do something to make it exciting, so the company created a contest in the hopes of making science fun. Since the competition began, countless students have competed for a nomination to participate in the challenge, with just 51 of those winning that nomination each year. From there, only 10 students secure a place in the finals and win an all-expense paid trip to the competition [source: Discovery Education].

If you want to be the 10th Young Scientist, crack open your computer and bust out your video camera. If you're in the fifth through the eighth grades, you can register at Discovery Education. Once registration has been completed and accepted, it's time to get creative.

Each year the judges (whom we'll talk about later) choose a theme for the challenge. They can be huge topics, but don't let that scare you. Along with the theme, the judges also release topics for students to focus on. This helps to keep everything fair -- and not overwhelming.

Once you pick your topic, it's time to start writing, but you'll need to write a script instead of an essay. Students are required to submit a video showing off their knowledge of their topic of choice. But think twice before you hire actors or a director. Videos will be accepted only if the student is the only one in the video and if the video is obviously done by the student. "Producing" isn't allowed.

Team Grey members Matthew Mooney, Shubha Raghvendra, Morgan Monroe, Benjamin Song and Kyrillos Tawadros pose with a DCYSC ice sculpture after completing the "Water, Water Everywhere" challenge at the University of Maryland's Greenhouse Facility at the 2007 Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Discovery Communications, 2007

You better keep it short and sweet, too. Video submissions have to be longer than 60 seconds but can't exceed 120 seconds. In those two minutes, the judges will be looking for creativity, relevance, persuasiveness, classroom suitability and overall presentation. Once your video is ready to go, upload it to the Web site and sit tight. Discovery will alert you of the winners sometime over the summer. But you're not in the clear yet. Of the 51 winners (one from each state and the District of Columbia), only 10 will be officially invited to attend the challenge.

So who are these judges we keep talking about? And most importantly, what does the winner get? See the next section to find out.

Blue team members Erik Gustafson and Samantha Gonzalez explain their ideas to their team and the judges in the "Water, Water, Everywhere" challenge at the University of Maryland at the 2007 Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Discovery Communications, 2007

The Finals of the Young Scientist Challenge

Steven Jacobs is an accomplished scientist, teacher and author with more than two decades of experience and three advanced degrees. He's also the head judge for the Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Judge Jake, as the contestants refer to him, is accompanied on the judge's panel by a mixture of historians, producers, physicians, marine biologists and other scientists. As we mentioned in the previous section, the judges determine the theme and the topics, as well as watch all of the video submissions and narrow the contestants down to 10.

Over the course of the final competition, the contestants will face a series of challenges laid out by the judges. What kind of challenges, you ask? No one will know until the competition begins. It's top secret. Some past challenges have included building greenhouses to seal off CO2 and investigating serious health concerns. The only hint the contestants get is that all of the challenges will revolve around the theme.

The challenges are designed to highlight a student's leadership, teamwork, problem-solving skills and communication. At the end of the competition one student will stand out against the finalists, and he or she will be named America's Top Young Scientist of the Year. And while the title's nice, let's get to the prizes.

The 2007 winners of the Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge: Katherine Strube (2nd place), Erik Gustafson (1st place), and Ambrose Soehn (3rd place)

Discovery Communications, 2007

The winner is not the only one who gets awards. Each of the 51 semifinalists will get $250, along with a certificate and T-shirt. The 10 finalists will get these things, as well as a paid trip to the competition, $1,000 and a medal. But this is nothing compared to what the grand prize winner gets: all of the above items, plus $50,000 inU.S. Savings Bonds, a trophy and bragging rights for being the smartest kid on the block.

For more information on the Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge, all things science and related topics, see the links on the next page. The information in the next section could also help you with research for your very own entrance video.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks ArticlesMore Great LinksSources
  • America's Top Young Scientist Chosen at 8th Annual Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge." Science News for Kids.
  • "Calling All Scientists: Discover Education/3M Young Scientist Challenge Announces Call for Entries." Press Release from Discovery Communications.
  • Discovery Educations Young Scientist Challenge Overview and Official Rules. PDF Document provided by Discovery Communications.
  • "Science Education for Middle Level Students." National Science Teachers Association.
  • "Science Teachers for the 'Wonder Years.'" Connecticut Science Supervisors Association Position Paper.
  • "Young Scientist Challenge 2008." Discovery Education.