The long-awaited event is finally here! The finalists and their families arrived in St. Paul, MN, the international headquarters for 3M Company, to start the jam-packed two days for the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. I was so excited and fortunate to finally meet Nikita and his family in person and host them and the other finalists on 3M’s turf for the next two days. The finalists got to tour some of our lab facilities in the morning and then engage in the “Uncommon Connections” Challenge this afternoon where the students work in pairs to combine two 3M technology platforms (from a list of five: films, nonwovens, adhesives, ceramics, and micro-replication) to come up with new product ideas to solve a presented problem. They did a great job under the time constraints to come up with a solution for each problem. It was also important to present their invention to the panel of judges in a timely fashion.

The next day began early with live coverage of the event on the local FOX affiliate – it’s so encouraging to see that this type of event is covered on the local news! This morning’s challenge was based on Rube Goldberg’s cartoons depicting gadgets that performed simple tasks. Finalists had two hours to design and build a machine that demonstrated at least five types of energy changes in an attempt to move a ball or marble from one spot to another and finish by activating the “mouse trap” at the end. The 3M Mentors’ role during this competition was to be a ‘pair of hands’ for our mentees, who were paired up with another student, and not give suggestions unless students asked for them to. It was difficult to hold back and not guide them in a way that we thought would be helpful, since ‘being a helpful resource’ was our role throughout the summer. But it was important for the finalists to work together to accomplish the task and through several iterations, our team did succeed in having the ball move through a variety of energy changes and finally did close the mouse trap! Later that afternoon, the final innovations were presented to a live and online audience of scientists, educators, and students. All of the presentations were excellent and I was impressed with the finalists’ poise and ability to convey their message in only five minutes to this broad audience. Some finalists brought posters or demos of materials used in their inventions which were helpful visual tools for the audience to follow as well. When everyone’s nerves were calmed with the presentations over, we enjoyed a nice social hour and awards dinner where the next Young Scientist was announced as Sahil Doshi! I want to emphasize that just being a finalist in this competition is a big deal and they all deserve the honor that comes with being at 3M for this week’s events. I’m so proud of Nikita for giving such an outstanding presentation about his “house of the future.”Even Kari Byron from Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, who was a guest judge for the presentations, wanted him to design some of her living spaces! Nikita’s passion and excitement for architecture truly inspires me to be the best at what I’m doing and that’s a lesson I’ll be reminded of every day.

After reflecting on these busy days, I am so proud to represent 3M and to be a part of this event. Although this was a competition, the finalists truly bonded over their experience and learned about what the culture at 3M is truly like. For example, the early challenges required collaboration between two people to accomplish a task, which is something we do at 3M every day. A team of people attacking the same problem together is so much stronger than teams working against each other to solve the problem. I know these students are going to leave here and continue to do amazing things in their schools and communities and I count myself blessed to be able to encourage the next generation of scientists to perform at their highest potential.

Thank you to Discovery Education for your amazing partnership with 3M and all the behind-the-scenes people who made this event possible. I’m so excited to join you again next year!