Google Science Fair seeks budding Einsteins and Curies

Are you a student who loves science? Do you have a good idea for an experiment that you’d like to share with the world? In 1996, two young computer science students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, had a hypothesis that there was a better way to find information on the web. They did their research, tested their theories and built a search engine which (eventually) changed the way people found information online. Larry and Sergey were fortunate to be able to get their idea in front of lots of people. But how many ideas are lost because people don’t have the right forum for their talents to be discovered? We believe that science can change the world—and one way to encourage that is to celebrate and champion young scientific talent as we do athletes and pop idols.

To help make today’s young scientists the rock stars of tomorrow, in partnership with CERN, The LEGO Group, National Geographic and Scientific American, we’re introducing the first global online science competition: the Google Science Fair. It’s open to students around the world who are between the ages of 13-18. All you need is access to a computer, the Internet and a web browser.

You may have participated in local or regional science fairs where you had to be in the same physical space to compete with kids in your area. Now any student with an idea can participate from anywhere, and share their idea with the world. You build and submit your project—either by yourself or in a team of up to three—entirely online. Students in India (or Israel or Ireland) will be able to compete with students in Canada (or Cambodia or Costa Rica) for prizes including once-in-a-lifetime experiences (like a trip to the Galapagos Islands with a National Geographic Explorer), scholarships and real-life work opportunities (like a five-day trip to CERN in Switzerland). And if you’re entering a science fair locally, please feel free to post that project online with Google Science Fair, too!

To enter, register online and create your project as a Google Site. Registration is open through April 4, 2011. Please note: you must get parental or guardian consent in order to compete. You can check out the complete rules here. After April 4, we’ll begin judging and will announce our semi-finalists in early May.

The semi-finalist projects will be posted on our online gallery, where we’ll encourage the public to vote for a “people’s choice” winner. From our list of semi-finalists, we’ll select 15 finalists to bring their projects to Google headquarters on July 11 to compete in our final, live event, where world-renowned science judges will select a winner in each age category, as well as a grand-prize winner.

Here’s an example of a great science fair project site to inspire you. We asked Tesca, a U.S. high school senior from Oregon, to create it for us based on an award-winning project she’s been working on for years. Tesca’s objective is to make hospitals more efficient using artificial intelligence—a world-changing goal, to be sure.

So if you think you’re the next Albert Einstein, Marie Curie—or Larry Page or Sergey Brin—sign up today for the Google Science Fair. Prove once again how science can change the world!

Why maps are still a niche

Two things crossed my mind. The first issue is that online maps are still not easy to share. Not to mention the challenge of creating and publishing them! All in all, there is not enough good content in shareable format to go around. Google is trying hard but despite, it is not easy and straightforward for anybody to use MyMaps and/or Fusion Tables to create informative maps for sharing. It is also not easy to find user created content, either on MyMaps or via filetype:kml search on Google. Indeed, I am struggling to find content for my reference map – with a few exceptions, like for example USGS earthquakes, there is virtually nothing immediately useable! Flood affected areas in NSW – zero. Fires in Israel – one… You get the picture.

True, there are some nice examples of map creation services but they are not quite yet up to the task – either too clunky for portability (eg. built with Flex requiring a hefty download to run) or can only be viewed on a specific site, or if embedding is allowed, show only a single map at a time. And since there are no communities like YouTube for sharing maps, again with exception of a few tiny by web standards portals, there are no critical mass to “make maps go viral”…

The second problem, as I see it, is that the spatial industry participants are looking too much inward rather than reaching out to the broader community. The focus is on selling software, data, services and solutions to fellow professionals and not much effort goes to providing tools for “solving problems and improving lives” of citizens in general. So, beyond a few specific applications, like online street directories or GPS navigation devices, and maybe a few more location aware tools, “doing thing the spatial way” does not have much broader appeal. Majority of people just don’t associate “information” with maps – rather only with text, lists or tables, eventually graphs. An example from the last few days – there are many road closure announcements due to recent flooding but try to find this information presented on a map. Not a chance! Yet without a reference to a map/ street directory/ road atlas, information like “…X road closed between Y junction and Z road” is completely useless for most.

Don’t get me wrong. Google did tremendous job with Google Maps, introducing masses to something otherwise considered a kind of a “black art”. Many valuable and community focused initiatives have been started in the last few years and individual professionals are doing tremendously important job creating, analysing and disseminating spatial information and maps but, as mentioned in the first point above, still much more work needs to be done to make spatial technologies and information widely understood and easy to apply. I hope that my reference map concept can contribute to that objective in some way.