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Volunteering at science fairs: Why it's worthwhile and how to get involved

Have you ever volunteered at a middle or elementary school science fair? If not, it's definitely something you should consider. From inspiring young children to enjoy science, to meeting other like-minded volunteers at the event, to putting on exciting science demonstrations for all fairgoers to enjoy, helping out at local science exhibitions is fun and rewarding.

If you're interested in volunteering in the community, it's easy to get involved. Try inquiring about science fair volunteering opportunities with college or university science clubs in your area. These organizations are often contacted about potential volunteering opportunities by schools in the neighborhood. They could always use more help, from any age group.

For the past four years, I have helped put on "Elephant Toothpaste," "Slime," and "Oobleck" demonstrations for children and their parents at local elementary schools with the help of students from my university. Large-scale science fairs require the assistance of multiple organizations to put on demonstrations for fairgoers; an advantage to helping out at these events is that you get to meet many new, like-minded people. This is always an exciting prospect, as it gives you the opportunity not only to volunteer, but to network.

Last spring, for example, I helped judge a local engineering fair. I was partnered up with another judge who had recently obtained her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cornell. As a senior chemistry major at the time, I enjoyed talking to the other judge about her graduate school experiences and why she decided to pursue a post-doc after grad school. She offered me great advice and has remained a contact since the engineering fair.

Not only is mingling with the other volunteers enjoyable, but interacting with the children is too. It's always refreshing to see the student presenters so excited about their research. Indeed, asking questions based on simple phenomena, such as "what causes the iridescence seen in butterfly wings?" or "what happens when coffee is used to fertilize plants?" shows that it doesn't take much to spark a child's interest in science. While judging an elementary school science fair can sometimes feel like mentoring, I'm always surprised by how much I learn from the students. The basic volcano and catapult science fair experiments that we grew up doing have been enhanced by improvements in our own technology. Sounds fascinating, right? Go volunteer at a school science fair and see for yourself. You'll be happy you did! 

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