Kids Are Never Too Young to Be Scientists

It's never too early to get your kids hooked on science. As the Kids' Science Challenge demonstrates, great scientific ideas come not only from experienced scientists, but also from young children. This national competition might spark your child's passion for scientific research while they have a great time learning about the world.

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A Fun and Free Challenge

The Kids' Science Challenge, which is entering its fourth year, is a free, national competition aimed at kids in grades three through six. The goal is to invent and innovate in three categories, which change from year to year. The top prize in each category includes the chance to travel to work with professional scientists and engineers and see how the winning idea performs when tested. Kids can also win science kits, science-themed toys and science equipment, all of which are intended to further develop their interest in the field.

The current categories, for which the competition will accept entries through February of 2012, include a Zero Waste challenge; the goal is to create product packaging in a sustainable manner so that it doesn't end up in a landfill. There's also an Animal Smarts category, in which kids can create a toy, game or experiment that will challenge the intelligence and entertain a pet or zoo animal. Finally, there is the Meals on Mars category, in which kids attempt to design food that can be used on a long and difficult space mission to Mars, or after arriving on the Red Planet. For all of the challenges, kids can play games, watch videos and try out activities put out by Kids' Science Challenge that help to get their ideas flowing.

The Latest Winners

Two of the winners of the 2011 Kids' Science Challenge, Peyton Robertson and Merrie Benjamin, were recently featured on National Public Radio's Science Friday. Peyton, a Fort Lauderdale-based student who's currently in fourth grade, won in the Super Stuff for Sports category for a golf ball warmer. Peyton noticed that tee shots fly farther on warmer days. As part of his prize, Peyton traveled to the University of Mississippi, where a polymer scientist helped him test his theory. They found that the key wasn't in warming the golf balls, but preventing them from getting too cold.

Merrie, a fourth grader from Massachusetts, won in the Sensational Sounds category. She invented a musical instrument called the Spritzer Whizzer. The idea for the instrument, which began as a plastic cup, squirt bottle and duct tape, came to Merrie as she cleaned her hamster's cage with a squirt bottle. For her prize, Merrie got to travel to the other end of the country, where she worked with California-based Jim Metzner, host of Pulse of the Planet, and Bart Hopkin, a musician and instrument designer. Using PVC pipe and tin cans, the trio refined the Spritzer Whizzer until it could play a whole octave.

Make Your Own Science Challenge!

The Kids' Science Challenge proves that you don't need an advanced degree or an expensive lab in order to perform inventive and useful science experiments. In addition to suggesting the contest, you can encourage your child to look for ways to improve the world around us. Suggest that they identify a problem, whether it's something personal, such as Peyton and his varying golf drives, or something that affects the world, such as the Zero Waste challenge. Show your child how simple, everyday objects, such as Merrie's squirt bottle, can lead to award-winning scientific innovations.

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