Edge of Innovation

Intel ISEF 2015: It’s innovation that counts, not gender

 

If you take the world’s largest competition for school-based student research, the Intel ISEF (Intel International Science and Engineering Fair), as a representation of equal opportunity in scientific contexts, then you could well say that an equality goal is almost achieved — 46 per cent of the 1,700 participants who attended the Intel ISEF 2015 finals in May were girls.

One was 16 year-old Nicole Ticea, who received an Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award of $50,000 for developing a disposable, unpowered HIV testing device that can be produced for less than $5.

The ambitious Canadian student has already founded her own company, which recently received a $100,000 grant to continue developing her technology.

We need more young women like Nicole Ticea.

Intel ISEF exhibition floor
There were over 1,700 entrants from 78 countries at Intel ISEF 2015, 46 per cent of which were girls. Credit: student.societyforscience.org.

In many places, women do have the same opportunities for getting into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) as men. Antonia Hartmann and Felicitas Kaplar worked on an ISEF project that takes climate-damaging CO2 and converts it into more harmless methane, capable of being converted to electricity in bio-gas facilities.

Are you passionate about science?

“In our school, at least,” said Felicitas, “it makes no difference whether you are a girl or a boy. If you are passionate about science, we are all given the same encouragement.”

But this sadly isn’t the case worldwide. The natural sciences are not promoted enough in schools and there is still a misconception that STEM careers aren’t suited, or in some cases, intended for women to follow. At Intel ISEF 2015, while teams from Spain and Norway consisted entirely of girls, Germany sent only three girls in a team of 15 entrants.

Intel ISEF 2015
Allison Clausius holds her cellphone charging dress at the waist of a young girl during the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Credit: Intel/Kathy Wolfe

“Intel believes young people are key to future innovation and that in order to confront the global challenges of tomorrow, we need students from all backgrounds to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math,” said Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation.

Raymond Wang, 17, was awarded first place for engineering a new air inlet system for aircraft cabins that improves air quality. Karan Jerath, 18, joined Nicole Ticea in receiving an Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award for a device that helps undersea oil wells quickly recover after a blowout.

“We hope these winners will inspire other young people to pursue their interest in these fields and apply their curiosity, creativity and ingenuity to the common good.”

Girls don’t colour their lines of code in pink

It is detrimental to society if talented young minds aren’t able to flourish — boys and girls should be encouraged and their creativity allowed to see no bounds. Girls in particular should be encouraged to participate and given sufficient support to do so.

Wendy Hawkins has been the head of the Intel Foundation for 18 years and gets to see first-hand the incredible ideas and the young talent year after year. Reviewing the projects at Intel ISEF 2015, she was struck by a thought: “looking at elegant program code, you can’t tell if it was written by a woman or a man. Girls don’t colour their lines of code in pink. They simply program just as well as their male competitors.”

Ultimately it’s the innovation that counts, not the gender. — Bernadette Andrietti, VP Sales and Marketing EMEA (@BAndrietti)

Featured image, from left to right: Karan Jerath, Nicole Ticea and Gordon E. Moore Award winner Raymond Wang at Intel ISEF 2015. Credit: student.societyforscience.org.

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