What I Did on My Summer Vacation...

For most high-school students, summer vacations consist of jobs, family trips and lots of time in front of the television. For some kids, though, summer is the time to show off work they've completed during the school year. We've come across two events this summer that give students working on environmental issues and problems a chance to show off, in some cases, several years of thinking and hard work aimed at making planet Earth a cleaner and greener place to live.In May, 1,400 high-school students from around the world gathered in Indianapolis for the 2006 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Over a six-day period, these students displayed and explained their work in fields ranging from biochemistry to earth sciences to physics and engineering. While not focused specifically on projects related to environmental issues and sustainability, a number of grand prize winners presented innovative ideas aimed at solving problems in clean energy production, air and water pollution and ecosystems protection. Among the winners were Andrew James Stewart of New South Wales, Australia, who developed a technique to improve the effectiveness of constructed wetlands, Abdiel Jose Ortiz of Cayey, Puerto Rico, who looked at the effects of earthworm-produced humus on coffee plants, and Allison Erica Dender of Plainview, New York, who studied the cognitive and emotional factors that make a person likely to use alternative energy. Teams won prizes for projects on bacterial fuel cells, environmentally-friendly cleaning powders and the behavioral effects of pesticide exposure. Judges awarded scholarships for a variety of further educational experiences for these talented young people.

Beginning this coming weekend, a very different kind of event with similar educational purposes takes place in the Dallas, Texas, area: the Dell-Winston School Solar Car Challenge. Started in 1995 at Dallas' The Winston School, this year's event will attract over eighteen teams of high-school students who have completed a two-year curriculum culminating in the construction of a solar-powered car. Check-in and opening festivities over the weekend lead into four days of racing at the Texas Motor Speedway. As these cars average speeds of around 28 mph, this isn't a typical demonstration of obscene levels of horsepower; it is, however, a lot cleaner and quieter. While students likely have a great time showing off their vehicles, the purpose behind the event is much more serious: getting teenagers interested in the sciences, engineering and technology. Keep an eye on Houston, Mississippi's Sundancer team, as they'll be defending a five-year run as event champions.

While these aren't garden-variety summer vacation events, we'd imagine that their value for and positive impact on these obviously bright students will outweigh what they miss in burger-flipping and sneaking away from the parents. As Treehuggers, we're absolutely thrilled to see that many (though probably not enough) high-school kids have the opportunity to get their hands dirty in the types of scientific activities that are critical to a greener future. :: The 2006 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (via the Alternative Energy Blog) and the 2006 Dell-Winston School Solar Car Challenge