This weekend was the biggest science event of the year for DC High School students, the annual STEM Fair. Yeah! I had a first hand view as a judge for the MIT prize.
A memorable metro ride landed me in Deanwood, a mish-mash of factories, vacant lots and wooden houses, and then to Ron Brown High School, the site of DC's only all-male HS. The location of the fair was a secret until shortly before the event. In recent years, it has been held at Dunbar, the school system's best example of glass-walled monumentalism. But Dunbar's name recalls the recent attendance or lack of attendance scandal that is still troubling the mayor's office.
The crowd of students was about half what I usually see but most were excellent, and about half the pool of juniors eligible were working on projects to decarbonize the world, a subject of course germane to this blog.
Despite, my doubts about the practicality of their projects, the pieces of the problem the teens had staked out was so impressive that two went home with the MIT prize. One student had built her own model for small-scale tidal power. The other had evaluated fractal patterns for their efficiency in transmitting energy from solar panels orbiting in outer space.
From my experience, judging in DC and neighboring counties, projects related to improving solar energy are a mainstay of STEM fairs throughout the DC metropolitan area.
It makes me wonder how many, if any, of these talented young people are supported in projects to better understand energy use that is more directly related to their own lives? Every year the city publishes energy consumption data for every school in Washington DC. The data applies to every K-12 school in the city, public and private, and includes carbon dioxide emissions data. From my experience, school administrators tend to be oblivious to the results of the database and to how their own school might rank in this useful metric of environmental impact.
This year the worst K-12 building, in terms of carbon footprint, in Washington DC, was a renovated High School that had consumed fossil fuels in 2016 at an astonishing rate that contributed to a per student carbon footprint of nearly 6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per student. This school was none other than Ron Brown High School! All the while that the students were encouraged to explore projects aimed at slowing global warming we were standing in DC Public School's worst example.