Winners from the first-ever Telluride Community Science Fair, held at the Wilkinson Public Library last January included, from left to right, Hudson Chaffin, Finn Trommer, T.J. Neumann, Gabriel Waldor, Lillie Pearl Williamson and Taylor Carter. (Courtesy photo)

Attention scientists, there are some important dates coming up.

First, applications are due Friday for a summer 2020 Pinternship through the Pinhead Institute.

“Pinternships are life-changing and amazing, and come at no cost with endless value for the students who do them,” Pinhead Executive Director Sarah Holbrooke said. “Six weeks away studying a science field of the student's choosing? Hey, I want one! But they're only open to high school juniors.”

And today (Wednesday) enrollment opens for the Telluride Community Science Fair, as links to information and how to apply go live on the Wilkinson Public Library and Pinhead Institute’s homepages. Enrollment is free and open to all.

The library and Pinhead are organizing the science fair, which will take place Jan. 25 at the library.

It follows an overwhelmingly successful inaugural event last January that attracted over 130 participants.

“It was kind of unexpected,” said Tiffany Osborne, a service specialist at the library, of last year’s success. “They were set up all over the library. We had people from as far away as Ridgway and Norwood. We were super excited with how it went.”

At that first-ever science fair, winners included Hudson Chaffin, Finn Trommer, T.J. Neumann, Gabriel Waldor, Lillie Pearl Williamson and Taylor Carter.

This year, organizers are tweaking the categories thanks to input from Colin Hubbard’s sixth-grade class at the Telluride Intermediate School, Osborne said. Like last year, there will still be a Rube Goldberg category, which features mechanical contraptions designed to perform an extraordinarily simple task, and the traditional science fair category, which requires participants to work through a question, form a hypothesis and then a solution.

For the third category, Osborne said, “The sixth-graders were quite creative this year, and they came up with the idea of doing a design challenge to solve a problem. They want to take it to the community and ask, ‘What do you think is a problem or an issue in our community?’ and ‘What is the solution for it?’ For example, what to do with dog poop, single-use plastic, housing — there are so many possibilities.”

Added fellow organizer Jessica Tenenbaum of the Pinhead Institute, “It’s a really great alternative to the traditional life sciences category.”

Osborne and Tenenbaum emphasized that the science fair is open to participants of all ages, not only children, and to part-time residents and visitors, as well as people across the region.

“It’s open to the wider community,” Osborne said. “If you think about science, a 12-year-old can have a genius idea as much as a 30-year-old. We have so many unique people here. We have so many people with brilliant ideas or adults who might say, ‘I loved my science fair when I was in school. I’m going to do this!’ There are no boundaries.”

For Tenenbaum and her colleagues at Pinhead, the science fair offers a chance to get even more people involved in STEM.

“The science fair exemplifies what we want to be happening in the community,” Tenenbaum said. “We want to see everyone coming together and rallying around and supporting science.”

She added, laughing, “We want to see everyone saying ‘Yay! Science!’”

Tenenbaum also pointed out that the science fair is unique in providing scientists locally with the chance to present their ideas in a fun but competitive environment.

“We take kids on our robotics teams to compete regionally and statewide, but there is nothing else like this locally,” she said. “And this is more encompassing. It’s all age groups, people from out of town can compete, and it makes what the kids are already doing in school into a much bigger thing. They get to share it with the entire community. And maybe some kids will learn about Pinhead, and other kids who don’t compete in the science fair will come and observe and think, ‘Hey, that’s really cool,’ and it sparks an interest.”

The science fair itself is the brainchild of Osborne, who happened to attend a library conference in October 2018.

“There was a scientist there, Isabel Hawkins, and she was saying how science brings communities together because it’s universal. No matter where you come from, science is science,” she said.

Osborne said she returned to Telluride and talked to colleagues at the library, as well as the Pinhead Institute, the Ah Haa School, the Telluride Mountain School, and Hubbard and his students, about launching a community-wide science fair.

Tenenbaum praised Osborne for getting these different groups together and bringing the science fair from concept to reality.

“This is all due to Tiffany,” Tenenbaum said. “She got us together and made it happen. And last year was a huge success because of her.”

That success, the pair agreed, also stemmed from the excitement and enthusiasm of last year’s participants and those who attended the science fair.

“It was really a great way for the community to be together,” Osborne said. “It brought back memories for a lot of people and created new memories for the younger ones.”

Recalled Tenenbaum, “When the Rube Goldberg machines were being set off, the room was so packed, you couldn’t get in. People were dying to see it. We’re looking forward to the same this year.”