The annual regional science fair kicked off on Monday with a surprising shift in the types of projects that are being entered.
Traditionally, the Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering Fair - formerly known as the Southern Arizona Regional Science and Engineering Fair - has been heavily centered on engineering projects. But this year, middle and high schoolers focused their efforts on behavioral and social science.
"I'm thinking some of our kids are thinking about what's happening in the world in terms of shootings and violence and asking why people behave the way they do," SARSEF Director Kathleen Bethel said. "What we're seeing at the middle and high school levels is students wondering about people more so than things this year."
But other types of projects haven't dropped off completely.
Environmental projects came in as the second-largest category, followed by engineering in third for high schoolers.
Elementary students submitted more projects centered around butterflies, rocks and minerals and observations in nature.
Monday was the first day for set-up for the annual event, which has nearly 1,800 submissions from more than 6,000 students. The weeklong event will include judging today before it is opened up for public viewing on Wednesday, followed by award ceremonies on Thursday and Friday.
The projects submitted have already gone through fairs at the school level and were handpicked for the regional competition.
Scholarships and other prizes are up for grabs, as well as the possibility of moving forward to compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix in May.
The mission of the event is to excite young people about science and engineering. As part of that, SARSEF organizers visited 86 schools to spread information about the fair and how teachers can incorporate science into math, reading and writing.
"Getting the basics is important, but it's not all there is," Bethel said. "If you don't encourage children at a young age to be innovators, it will get too late and they won't believe they can do it."
Wanting to go into the science or engineering fields is not a requirement, and there is more to be gained from participating.
Joi Nipales and Jacquel Rivers, seniors at Baboquivari High School, have learned about more than just their project, which aims to create a solar strategy for the Tohono O'odham Nation.
The pair took the project they entered into the competition last year, which earned them a trip to the International Fair, and made it more efficient.
Their goal was to bring power to homes on the reservation without electricity using a solar heater and photovoltaic panels.
"It's been a good and challenging experience because we've never had to present before," Rivers said. "We also get to represent our community in a positive way."
If you go
• What: Future Innovators Night
• When: Wednesday, 5:30 to 8 p.m.
• Where: Tucson Convention Center, 260 S. Church Ave.
• Admission: Free
• Info: www.sarsef.org
Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at email@example.com or 573-4175.