Opportunity X annual science fair held virtually, middle schoolers present research projects

May 29, 2021

by Arely Sun, Sabrina Zhu

Students of Opportunity X, a nonprofit organization that teaches about science research to various middle schools in California and around the world, congregated on Zoom for the program's annual science fair on May 29. The program’s online format this year allowed it to expand internationally and gave participants a chance to meet students from different school branches.

Opportunity X offered two research options during the school year: science research, where students worked with high school volunteers to conduct a project, and the science exploration challenge, which prompted participants to study and present about past research on specific topics. All students recorded a short video to display their work, and industry professionals judged the projects based on creativity, presentation and scientific thought. Additionally, each student had the opportunity to give a live speech to an audience of judges during the fair. Winning students received monetary gifts.

Along with live presentations, the fair included speaker events and interactive activities. Volunteers invited Howard Isaacson from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Kepler Space Mission and the California Planet Search, Dr. Dong Chen who leads the Machine Learning Kit team at Google and Dr. Matthew Porteus, the Sutardja Chuk Professor of Definitive and Curative Medicine at Stanford. The speakers gave twenty minute talks and answered questions, and participants could decide whose session to attend.

“The speaker I went to, he talked about genes and sickle cell disease, and that was really cool,” April Mestas, an eighth grader from Ave Crux program at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View who participated in the Science Exploration Challenge, said.

Volunteers also organized science experiments, which could be easily completed with household items, as an interactive learning experience. Opportunity X co-president Alice Feng (11) sought to make the online event more engaging through these activities.

“It's easier when everyone's in the same physical environment to keep their attention, but when it's virtual, we have to get a little more creative,” Alice said. “Through science experiments, the students were able to have some fun doing hands-on activities, and organizing those events was kind of a challenge by itself. We had to look for projects that didn't require too many materials so that the students could find everything at home.”

Ayush Rao (8) participated in the Opportunity X program at his school Hercules Middle School in Hercules and presented his project “What’s the most effective barrel length for a spring powered nerf blaster?” He also attended the interactive activity sessions during the fair.

“I tried the experiments like water bending and making a rubber band guitar, and I really enjoyed those. They were a lot of fun,” Ayush said.

Opportunity X held its first science fair in 2019 in order to give students a chance to share the work they had done over the year. The organization has since grown, with over 100 participants attending this year’s online event.

Opportunity X was co-founded in 2016 with a mission to provide research supplies to underrepresented groups. High school volunteers visit local schools and libraries to hold lessons for middle schoolers. The organization now has over 80 volunteers at 18 schools across California, Texas and Florida. At the weekly classes, teachers prepare basic experiments and scientific lessons. In the spring, the volunteers mentor students as they complete their research projects.

“We hope that, through [the science fair, students] can come in contact with a lot of peers who are as passionate about STEM as they are. It's also a great opportunity for them to share all of the hard work that they've put into their research projects this year,” Alice said. “I'm very inspired and motivated by all of the volunteers that I have the incredible opportunity to work with. For the students, I've seen a lot of growth in them, which inspires me and makes me feel that what we're doing at Opportunity X is worth it.”