This National Geographic documentary is a really watchable, enjoyable account of America’s annual International Science and Engineering Fair, a gigantic competition open to high-school science students from all over the globe. At the annual final in Los Angeles, 1,700 young people must present their projects in trade-fair-type booths and be prepared to answer questions from judges who tour around, taking notes. Translators are provided.
This film follows a handful of these competitors: outspoken, smart, idealistic, unburdened by false modesty, and with a sublime kind of innocence. It is refreshing to watch something unashamedly concerned with excellence and objectivity, a contest that cannot be won by the person who shouts loudest about it being rigged or culturally biased, and it is also refreshing to see that scientists are not being belittled as “nerds”, or encouraged to humblebrag themselves by using this term. In many ways, the most hilarious moment comes at the very beginning, when one student, 15-year-old Jack Andraka, wins the overall prize and runs up to the stage overcome with excitement. It is one of the few times when the descriptive phrase “screaming with joy” is entirely accurate. There is also Anjali Chadha, who has, in the Scottish phrase, no small opinion of herself. (“I would say that a lot of people are jealous of me …”) Also, there is the distinctly unassuming Kashfia Rahman, who talks about having to be super-nice to everyone as a Muslim. Entirely riveting. It made me nostalgic for the BBC’s Young Scientists of the Year programme, which ran from 1966 to 1981. Can’t we revive it?