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Complexity in the Simple Things; Exploring Science behind Everyday Life

The finals for the “2021 Taiwan Science Exploration Fair”, a yearly event encouraging young students’ interest in science, began virtually on March 10. Finalists of each category are as follows: Luzhou Elementary School (Primary School Category), Kaohsiung Municipal MingHua Junior High School (Junior High Category), Taipei Municipal Zhongshan Girls High School (Senior High Category), the faculty at Tainan’s Dashe Elementary School (Teachers Category), Chi-Ying Senior High School (Marine Science Category), and Mr. Li Cheng-lung (Independent Category).

As one of its main tasks, Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) hopes the interest sparked during this tournament held for the eighth consecutive year inspire the young to eventually pursue a career in scientific research. Therefore, under the guidance of the Ministry of Education’s K-12 Education Administration and MOST’s National Applied Research Laboratories (NARLabs), several university heavyweights and research institutes – including NARLabs’ National Center for High-performance Computing (NCHC) – hosted the 2021 Taiwan Science Exploration Fair. Participants joined one of the six abovementioned categories in historic numbers despite the ongoing pandemic, with 886 submitting finalized projects out of the 1,025 participants who had initially enrolled.

There were 30 projects that entered the finals, covering highly entertaining topics, such as: the Primary School Category’s “The Flameless Heating of Bento Meals” and “Why Use 75% Alcohol to Kill Viruses?”; the Junior High Category’s “Mosquitos Approaching” and “Burning Cardboard Boxes”; the Senior High Category’s “Insights into Fingerprint Identification”; the Teachers Category’s “Smart Home IoT for the Gray-haired”; the Marine Science Category’s “Reusing Waste: Peanut Shells for Face Washing”; and the Independent Category’s “An Easy Way for Understanding Blood Spatters in CSI”. Even Macau’s Pui Ching Middle School participated, pROViding their own unique, non-local perspective to this large variety of topics and adding even more liveliness to the research presentations.

The topics for this year’s tournament were left mostly to participants’ choosing, as long as they could be linked to issues in everyday life. Science is all around us, and this event seeks to have students learn outside of their textbooks and act as explorers and educators themselves. They ask a question they don’t know the answer to, go explore and experiment, then teach other students about their findings through videos, presentations, illustrations, and more.

Political Deputy Minister of Education, Tsai Ching-Hwa, indicated that the established 2019 course curriculum’s “Science Literacy” goals call for further research to integrate different scientific domains. Therefore, a new “Exploration and Practice” course was added to break from the traditional, one-directional teaching of science into a more cross domain, hands-on approach. Such changes will foment the independent thinking and problem solving skills of Taiwan’s students.

NARLabs President, Kuang-Chong Wu, stated that NARLabs has always seen the science education as one of its principle priorities, with its NCHC working with Kaohsiung’s Department of Education to hold this tournament for the first time in 2014. Likewise, the event encourages the participation of women, indigenous Taiwanese and children of Southeast Asian immigrants in scientific research, with girls and women making up 47.7% of this year’s participants.

Acting Director of the National Museum of Natural Science, Huang Wen-Shan, also expressed his institution’s decades-long commitment to educating and deepening scientific understand among the younger generations. The museum understands that throughout our world’s countless organisms and natural phenomena, students can find meaning and research by uncovering their behavioral patterns and scientific principles.

The National Science and Technology Museum’s Director-general, Chen Hsun-Hsiang, alluded to the museum’s principle “Integrating Technology into Our Lives”, which looks to transform science’s mysteries into concepts anyone can understand. Despite the tournament taking place virtually due to the pandemic, Chen hoped that participants will still return home gaining just as much as in normal circumstances.

Director General Chen Chih-Hsiang of the National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium described the museum’s mission of teaching citizens about the ocean’s ecosystems as being well-aligned with the tournaments purpose. Therefore, the museum was responsible for the competing teams within the Marine Science Category, hoping to spark high schoolers’ passion for all things sea-related.

National Museum of Marine Science and Technology (NMMST)’s Director-General, Chen Su-Fen, stated that NMMST seeks to make marine science a more approachable science for K-12 students with diverse activities, and therefore hopes that this sort of competition would increase that understanding among students throughout Taiwan.

National Taiwan Science Education Center’s Director-general, Liu Hoo-Chin, indicated the museum he oversees already possesses over 60 years of experience organizing marine science exhibitions for primary and middle schoolers. Since 2018, it also began co-hosting the yearly Taiwan Science Exploration Fair to help more people join the ranks of scientific exploration. Liu also remarked that each and every student’s efforts should be applauded, with this year’s tournament allowing for a wider range of research topics as long as they relate to everyday life, it synchronizes perfectly with the new school curriculum’s course principles.