Girls rule at Austin Energy science fair

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — This is the 60th year for Austin Energy’s Regional Science Fair, but that’s not what makes this year special. This year, for the first time in the history of the event, there are more female participants than male — 153 girl entrants outnumber 127 boy entrants.

Bowie High School and Vista Ridge High School have the largest number of female entrants. Bowie has 40 girls, compared to 21 boys, and Vista Ridge is bringing 42 girls, compared to 30 boys.

Eight-year-old Nitya Shah from Mills Elementary has an exhibit about how her vital signs change when she spends a certain amount of time playing video games. She is really interested to see how her blood pressure changes with time. She says “science is awesome,” and she’s glad more girls are participating.

Nine-year-old Madison White from Double File Trail Elementary is proud of her exhibit about ways to help cool down her family’s home. She explores how a sun shade outside the home, a solar-powered fan and a vent can all help lower temperatures in the Central Texas heat. She’s glad more girls are getting involved in science because people need to challenge themselves.

Ingrid Weigand is the Executive Director of the Austin Science Education Foundation, which is the nonprofit partner helping to secure sponsorship for the fair. She is glad to see more girls, saying, “We think it’s a gradual development. We started seeing it in about 2011, 2012. And, while we’re not quite sure why we’re seeing, it, we’re very happy to see it. But we also think it’s because there are more role models out there for young girls.”

This event comes at a time where almost half the U.S. labor force — 47 percent at last census — are women, but are still largely underrepresented in scientific careers. Material scientists and chemists have the highest numbers, where women represent 39 percent of those employed; however, some engineering fields have fewer than one in every five women among their numbers, including chemical and civil engineers.

The Austin Energy Regional Science Fair brings together about 3,000 students from area schools in the 3rd through 12th grade. It is one of Texas’ largest regional science fairs.

The event is sponsored by Austin Energy and the city of Austin, as well as Intel and Google Fiber. The goal is to keep kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to encourage new ideas and a strong future economy.

This year’s event is being held at the Palmer Events Center. Students have been setting up for demonstration and judging this week. Winners in the junior and senior division progress to the Texas Science and Engineering Fair in San Antonio in late March. It’s possible for six senior winners from the Austin fair to go straight on to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix in May.

This event is open to the public starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday, February 20. KXAN Chief Weathercaster Jim Spencer will be present to judge and hand out awards for elementary science projects at 3 p.m.

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