Every year, the EU celebrates its best young scientific talent at its Young Scientist Contest. In 2002, the event brought together 85 contestants from over 30 European countries in the Austrian capital, Vienna.
The young scientists, all national winners, exhibited over 60 top-rate projects. They also took part in workshops, went on trips and networked with their peers from across Europe.
Lauri Kauppila, a young Finn, won one of three first prizes for his project on how to maximise the thrust of solid rocket fuel. Although pleased with his prize, the young scientist feels his best reward was the experience he gained.
“The contest gave me so much more to think about that the prize was no longer important,” he admits. Familiarising himself with the work of some of Europe’s best young scientific minds proved to be an eye-opener.
“When I started my project as a school essay, scientific work seemed abstract and far from our reach,” he confesses. But meeting with likeminded students from across Europe has made him keener. “Seeing these projects made me realise that with a little creativity, science can be fun for everyone.”
The contest also had added bonuses. “I made many friends, which helped me appreciate the broad variety of cultures in Europe.”
Now 18, this intrepid young man is in his first year at MIT, one of America’s top universities. He is still passionate about space and has done some work at MIT’s Space Propulsion laboratory. “I find the endless frontier and the mysteries of far-away planets intriguing.”
Nevertheless, he finds himself turning to more earthly interests in environmental sciences, economics, politics and human rights. When he returns to Europe, Lauri would like to pursue a multidisciplinary scientific career combining these elements.
“I now find that my interests are shifting to pressing issues far closer to the ground,” he explains. “The young scientist contest has had a major influence on my decision to come back to work in Europe,” he adds.
Science in the virtual lab Science teaching has advanced beyond test tubes and Bunsen burners and is now using the latest technology to kindle young children’s scientific curiosity.
In Italy, the Istituto Nazionale per la Fisica della Materia developed two award-winning interactive CDs: ‘From silicon to computers’ and ‘Energy and its transformations’.
These multimedia tools employ a more student-centred approach allowing children to learn at their own pace, while virtual laboratories and attractive graphics make the science more fun.
The concept has proven very popular in Italy and, with the help of Energy Technet – an EUbacked project under the Fifth Framework Programme – the packages are now also used in English and Spanish schools.