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Google Unveils Global Science Fair With National Geographic

National Geographic has joined Google, CERN, the LEGO Group, and Scientific American to launch a global online science competition for students ages 13 to 18: The Google Science Fair.

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By Ford Cochran The next generation's Albert Einsteins and Marie Curies got a chance to jumpstart their careers this morning with the debut of the Google Science Fair, an online competition that invites 13- to 18-year-olds to share their bright ideas, experiments, and observations with the world. Representatives from Google, National Geographic, the LEGO group, CERN, and Scientific American gathered in Manhattan this morning to kick off the contest, which will remain open for submissions through midnight ET April 4, 2011. A panel of scientists and educators will select 60 semifinalists in May. 15 finalists winnowed from that group will travel to Google's Mountain View, California headquarters in July for a celebratory event and live judging. "If you win this competition," said Samantha Peter, an Education Product Marketing Manager for Google, "we want to make sure you feel like the rock star of the science world." The grand prize-winning student or team will travel to the Galápagos Islands, Darwin's living laboratory, with National Geographic Expeditions aboard the National Geographic Endeavor. Other prizes include scholarships from Google, Android phones and Google Chrome notebooks, opportunities to spend time at Google and CERN research labs in Switzerland, a year-long virtual internship with the LEGO MINDSTORMS R&D team, an internship shadowing the editor of Scientific American magazine, and more. Oh, and some serious exposure and bragging rights.

Google's Chief Internet Evangelist and "father of the Internet" Vint Cerf took the stage at this morning's launch event. Cerf spoke of how many questions about our universe remain unanswered. "Young people have a chance to ask and answer those questions," he quipped, "and I can hardly wait to Google your results to find out what the answers are." William Kamkwamba from the southeast African country of Malawi also took the stage, and shared his story of having to leave school because his family couldn't afford for him to attend. Kamkwamba nonetheless made time to educate himself from books in the school library, and used discarded items such as a tractor fan, a shock absorber, and lengths of PVC pipe to build windmills to generate electricity to light his family's home, charge neighbors' cell phones, and pump water from a well. He's since earned a college degree and built a windmill to power portable laptops for children in the local school, and he trains other rural Malawi youth to follow in his footsteps. Tesca Fitzgerald, a college student from Portland, Oregon, walked through a sample science fair entry about her own award-winning project, a set of artificial intelligence algorithms that help robots make routine item deliveries in hospitals, freeing up nurses to provide more patient care.

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The panel of competition judges includes geneticist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Spencer Wells (pictured at top at this morning's event), Genographic Project Director, as well as two National Geographic Emerging Explorers: marine biologist and filmmaker Tierney Thys and urban planner and educator T.H. Culhane. Enter the Google Science Fair, learn more about it on the Official Google Blog, or follow it on Facebook. See what else National Geographic is doing for K-12 students and teachers. Photo of Spencer Wells by Colby Bishop; photo of students with the National Geographic logo by Glynnis Breen

Ford Cochran directs Mission Programs online for National Geographic. He has written for National Geographic magazine and NG Books, and edits BlogWild--a digest of Society exploration, research, and events. Ford studied English literature at the College of William and Mary and biogeochemistry at Harvard and Yale, with a focus on volcanoes, forests, and long-term controls on atmospheric CO2. He was an assistant professor of geology and environmental science at the University of Kentucky before joining the National Geographic staff.

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