On my last day in Taiwan, my Tumblehome Learning business partner Barnas Monteith brought me to visit the Taiwan International Science Fair. Barnas himself won multiple state, national, and international science fairs for his work on dinosaur egg proteins when he was in high school, so he's a good guide.
In the National Taiwan Science Education Center, high school students from 17 countries displayed their posters and talked about their scarily sophisticated projects. Usually the posters were in Chinese but the abstract was in English, so I could get at least a sense of the topic. I spent some time looking at two projects analyzing satellite data. One used Taiwan Formosat satellite data to look at sudden temperature changes in the stratosphere. It turns out that around January and February of each year, there's a sudden temperature spike of about 20 degrees Celsius in the stratosphere above the northern hemisphere. It reaches a maximum around 30 kilometers above the earth. A pair of girls investigated how this temperature change vary with altitude and latitude; oddly, it doesn't seem to happen at all in the southern hemisphere. Why does it happen, and why just up there? Why in mid-winter? It may be something about ice suddenly reflecting more heat from earth back into the atmosphere.
A second project used NOAA (National Ocean and Atmospheric Association) satellites to investigate signals of air temperature and humidity in the lower atmosphere overlying last year's Japanese earthquake and tsunami. A trio of boys compared the signals from the day of the tsunami to the day before. They found a very distinct discontinuity at the time of the tsunami, propagating outward. Basically they were modeling how a tsunami could be detected and tracked using satellite data, giving hours of warning time.
A third poster, which I didn't visit but Barnas told me about, demonstrated a device blind people could insert into their mouth in order to "see." Cameras feed signals into electrodes on the tongue, and blind subjects learn how to interpret the prickling of their tongues well enough to be able to maneuver through the obstacles of an unfamiliar environment.
These were only three projects out of hundreds that crossed the fields of mathematics, biochemistry, physics, chemistry, energy, bioengineering, geology, and lots more. The kids all looked young, spiffed up, and friendly, and they loved explaining their projects in a tumble of words that definitely moved faster than my ability to comprehend. I had to just wander off nodding and muttering to myself that these kids are really, really smart and are going to make great contributions to the world someday.