BAR HARBOR, Maine — Of all the things that have nearly vanished from Maine over the years, Randy Smith didn’t want to see student science fairs added to that list.
Chicken farms, shoe manufacturing, and pulp and paper manufacturing are among the Maine industries that have waned in recent decades, while the state’s once-significant sardine canning business disappeared altogether last year when the Stinson Seafood plant shut down in nearby Gouldsboro.
Randy Smith, director of educational programs at The Jackson Laboratory, said Monday that the annual Maine State Science Fair appeared to be on the verge of disappearing last year. Maine Principal’s Association had run the event for many years, he said, but the fair’s continuation was threatened by lack of funding.
Smith, who personally has more than 25 years of experience judging science fairs, said he and his colleagues at Jackson Lab thought it was “horrible news” that the statewide science fair might vanish.
“I just couldn’t let it go,” Smith said. “I really believe that science, technology, engineering and math are at the core of what makes the United States a great country.”
So Jackson Lab has decided to fill the gap, he said. The lab is coordinating the fair this year, and plans to host 135 students from 16 Maine high schools for the daylong fair Saturday, April 30.
Participating students have the option of providing details about a project of their own choosing in writing, usually on a poster, or in an oral presentation, Smith said. About 45 judges are expected to review projects from 8 a.m. until between 2 and 4 p.m., he said.
“It depends on how many students have signed up to do [oral] presentations,” he said.
Bangor Savings Bank Foundation has donated $10,000 to cover most of the event’s costs, he said. Aside from the bank and judges, many staff researchers at the lab are helping to make the event possible by donating their time and effort, Smith said.
“A lot of them remember that in middle school, they won a science fair project,” Smith said. “This is very important.”
Lab officials hope to do more than keep the science fair alive, he said. Smith, who has experience as a judge at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair, said that organizers of the Maine fair are making some adjustments to the event so that its winners will be eligible to attend the more prestigious Intel fair.
“We have never sent one of our students to the international competition,” Smith said. “Some winners [at the Intel fair] get $50,000 or $75,000 college scholarships. We want our students there.”
Plus, he added, the lab will offer a summer internship to the top winner at the Maine event.
Smith said that registration has closed for this year’s fair, but that two weeks is probably not enough time to think of and execute a scientific project or experiment for the fair anyway. But it is not too early to think about 2012, he said.
“Now is the time to plan what you want to do for your science fair project next year,” Smith said.