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What is modern living if not being surrounded by technology? Understanding the science behind this is vital to the continued development of children. So, children, this fair’s for you.

Robots made of Lego? Kids building their own motors? Water rockets blasting off towards the sun in defiance of Granny Gravity’s eternal pull? That’s right, the Penang International Science Fair is back!

The first in the series was launched in December 2011 as part of the Penang Science Cluster’s (PSC) attempt to introduce the sciences to a new generation. Children, guided by hundreds of engineers from the Free Trade Zone, got to see science and engineering in action in a carnival-like atmosphere. With the backing of major multinationals including Intel, Agilent, B.Braun and Altera, among others, that fair, held at the Penang International Sports Arena, was flooded by some 12,000 excitable children and their parents. Needless to say, it was a success.

 

 

“We were overwhelmed by the response,” says PSC director Yoon Chon Leong. “We were addressing an unmet need.” This year’s event, now held at Straits Quay, will stretch over two days on April 13-14, and the organisers say they expect to see more than 10,000 visitors over the weekend. The fair will also have a bit more international flavour, with the participation – at their own cost, Yoon is quick to point out – of a team of scientists from the National Tsing Hua University of Taiwan. They will show kids how nanotechnology works. Additionally, a nine-year-old scientist from the Philippines, Roberto Sazon, will also be at the fair to demonstrate how to turn discarded cooking oil into computer printer ink.

In a departure from the last fair, this year will also see 10 secondary schools perform a 10-minute skit each on how the body’s immune system works, based on the 1908 Nobel Prize-winning research of Ilya Mechnikov and Paul Ehrlich. The performances, guided by professors from Universiti Sains Malaysia and Universiti Malaya, will be judged on creativity and on the accuracy of the science. The four winning schools will get to perform in a concert later in the evening.

All this is made possible by an industry that recognises the importance of instilling an appreciation of the sciences in kids. Yoon notes that only 20% of students in Malaysia are taking up science and engineering careers, and blames this lack of interest on how science is taught in schools. “Science cannot be learned from a book. It is something you must touch, see and play with. If you can build something, then you will get excited.”

“We’re able to create this fair on a very low budget,” he adds. “But in fact this is millions and millions of Ringgit in activities that the biggest companies in the world are bringing in. They’re invested in Penang.”

The fair isn’t going to be a trade show, Yoon assures us. “We’re not asking the companies to show their products, we’re asking them to show the science behind their products, everything from how radios work to DNA testing to the lifecycle of butterflies.”

The point of it all? Over the long term, to turn Penang into a regional centre for science and engineering education, and to create a pipeline of future engineers and scientists. “We want to make science cool for kids.” Better than yet another mass comm grad.

FUN WITH SCIENCE

This year’s Penang International Science Fair promises kids all the wonder and awe that modern technology can offer. Some highlights:

 

 

THE LEGO ROBOTS

What better way to show engineering in action than building your own robot? Children will get to work with real-life engineers who will show them how to build robots out of motors, sensors and Lego blocks. The industry has raised more than RM300,000 to purchase these robots, and parents will also have the option of buying one for their children at the fair. Alternatively, schools can also sign up for their own weekend sessions; currently some 60-70 schools are taking part in this programme, with more than 200 engineers volunteering their time to be mentors every week. During the fair, registration is open for kids aged seven to 17.

CHUMBAKA MOTOR CHALLENGE

Kids will get the chance to build their own motors from a set of simple kits containing magnets, copper wire, batteries and other components, which they can then take home. Kids will be able to learn how motors work, and there will also be a competition to judge the fastest motor.

 

 

TRIZ

A problem-solving exercise for children. Originally designed as a problem-solving and analytical tool engineers use to design around existing IPs, this exercise has been simplified for children to teach them basic inventive principles.

NANOTECHNOLOGY

Courtesy of the National Tsing Hua University, children will be introduced to the concept of nanotechnology by making their own nanoparticles using very simple methods, and change the properties of surface areas through carbon. Children will also get to build their own DNA helixes by hand.

Jeffrey Hardy Quah would have been an astronomer if there wasn’t so much math.



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