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Regional science fairs create a buzz across B.C. and the Yukon

Prabhnoor Sidhu of Prince George with her NatureGate science project
Prabhnoor Sidhu of Prince George won a B.C. regional science fair in 2023, and went on to claim silver at the national finals, for her innovation called NatureGate. It's a device she designed and tested to act as a series of anchors to stabilize slopes prone to fast-moving landslides. (Screenshot courtesy YouTube)

BC Hydro community grant funding helps bring STEM learning to students

First in a series of stories about organizations supported by BC Hydro community grants. Organizations have until March 31 to apply for this year's grants.

What's it like to attend a regional science fair in B.C.? If you ask Sarah Prade, it's electric.

"I wish I could make visual the electricity you feel at a science fair," gushes the executive director of the Science Fair Foundation of B.C. "You walk into the room and there's just this buzz about it. Sometimes there's dozens or hundreds of kids in this space, and they're so excited to talk about their projects. They've been working on this project for weeks, sometimes months. They just want to talk to someone about it."

The Science Fair Foundation of B.C. relies on more than 1,500 science and technology educators and professionals volunteering as mentors, judges and science fair hosts. They also lean on a number of funding sources, including a 2023 BC Hydro community grant of $5,000 that will help cover the costs of an awareness campaign and for program outreach costs.

And sometimes, awareness isn't enough. While there are 11 regional science fairs across B.C. this year, including fairs in Cranbrook and Smithers, it's not easy or affordable for some students in smaller communities to take part. That's where the association's financial aid program steps in to help pay for anything from project materials to transportation and hotel costs.

"It might be a five- or six-hour drive to attend a fair," says Prade. "They have to spend gas and hotel money, so our financial aid program can help with that."

One of the ironies of the COVID-19 pandemic is that while most regional science fairs couldn't run as usual, a temporary shift to virtual science fairs helped bring the experience to more kids in smaller towns.

"Suddenly, the fairs became virtually accessible," says Prade. "A student could talk to scientists in different part of the province. A kid who loves chemistry could be talking to a chemist from Prince George or Port Hardy – they'd have a connection they would not have had otherwise."

To help students with their projects, the association has a mentorship program that connects mentors to students who need a question answered. There's also a once-a-month online science club held over Zoom.

Science fairs offer students from elementary grades through high school with the opportunity to present original scientific research and innovative projects to their communities. They're held at high school gyms, rec centres, regional colleges and universities, and there's usually a one-hour window where the public can attend to view the completed projects.

There's also an annual Youth Innovation Showcase where students compete for a $5,000 award they can use to expand their innovative projects. What kind of projects? Last year's winners included Jora Singh Nahal, for a novel soap recycling project, and Keanu Chan, who has developed (and aims to patent) a device he designed to bring down the costs of spinal surgeries.

Here's the schedule of science fairs in B.C. and the Yukon for 2024:

  • February 23-24, Coast Mountain College, Smithers
  • March 9, University of Northern B.C., Prince George
  • March 27, Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre, Yukon
  • April 3, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops
  • April 6, Selkirk College, 10th Street campus, Nelson
  • April 4-6, University of B.C., Vancouver
  • April 9-10, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Surrey
  • April 11, University of Fraser Valley (Awards show set for 5:30-6:30 p.m. April 17)
  • April 12, College of the Rockies, Cranbrook
  • April 23-25, Port Hardy Recreation Centre
  • April 28-29, University of Victoria

Learn about how to apply for a BC Hydro community grant.