From the national competitions to the biggest science fair ISEF

Four outstanding students from Estonia got the opportunity to represent the country at the International Science and Engineering Fair ISEF in the United States of America. This was achieved thanks to the good results at the Student Inventors and Students Researchers National Competitions held by The Estonian Research Council.  

ISEF is an international festival that brings together all the best student researchers from all over the world. Estonia has been represented for the past 15 years – this year, the representatives were student company team Konnekt and a student researcher Rhea Kõivutalu. 

Memories for a lifetime

The winner of last year´s Estonia´s National Students Researchers Competition, Rhea Kõivutalu, studied the distribution and living environment of the Woolly Mammoth. In her research, Rhea determined four new Woolly Mammoth finds in Estonia that found great media coverage at the time. The results of the research project help to prevent the environmental events caused by pollution and contamination and give input on how to prevent the extinction of species.

The ISEF preparation started early – by preparing all the necessary paperwork. “Going to ISEF, I had high expectations. I wanted to present my research project at an international level and meet experts in the field. However, I participated as a visitor since my research project was done a bit too early for the competition,” told Rhea. Despite that, all the festival days were filled with interesting and eye-opening programmes. “For me, the most exciting part was the pin exchange and the tour to the Atlanta Aquarium”, Rhea explained. In addition, useful and practical tips on how to make a good poster and share the results of a research project in a visual mind map were shared. Rhea also pointed out the wonderful experience of participating in the networking event for the earth and environmental sciences organized by National Geographic. 

The biggest science and engineering festival brought together the best student researchers to Atlanta. This gave Estonian students an excellent opportunity to see the remarkable work done by other students worldwide. “It was fascinating to see and compare the research projects. For me, the most interesting project was a solution in which a song was suggested to a person based on their heartbeat. Another was research about different learning methods and their suitability to different character types,” shared Rhea. 

Cultural differences that enrich with experience

The second representative of Estonia was the team behind the student company Konnekt. Konnekt was the winner of the National Student Inventors competition. Konnekt aims to offer a convenient and sustainable solution to plastic cards, from student cards to loyalty cards that make our wallets unreasonably thick. With the mobile app, Konnekt alleviates the environmental problems caused by millions of plastic cards. At the same time, everyday life is made easier and more convenient. 

“We understood with our participation at ISEF how important our project presentation is. For us, the most outstanding were engineering projects, where the students put more emphasis on the pitch of their ideas and work,” explained Grete Paat, the back-end developer of Konnekt. The Konnekt team finds that the most significant differences between Estonia and USA are cultural approaches – the jury of the competition focused more on other things that the students were used to. Grete explained that it is not so common in Estonia to find the next big and world-changing thing in the student projects. “However, for us, it is a big learning experience – to think through the value proposition of the solution and the most important thing we want to say,” Grete explained. To her, the feedback gave an important input on how to develop Konnekt even further. 

The charm of networking

According to both Rhea and Konnekt, one of the most essential aspects of ISEF was networking and international experience. “The competition took place for two days, the rest of the programme focused on the social aspect,” Grete explained. The evening events gave unforgettable memories. “We took part in every event and seminar we could, meaning that the experience obtained was fully up to ourselves,” she added. ISEF gave incredible memories also to Rhea. For her, ISEF is a huge festival: “I enjoyed the fact that there were so many different people at the festival and thanks to that, we all gained new and invaluable experiences,” Rhea concluded. 

Rhea also encourages other students to conduct research projects and participate in competitions. “You never know when you gain the opportunity to do something like this. No topic is never too boring or small. I believe that science can be done in different ways,” Rhea shared. She added that making your research project more attractive and visual to the public is also important: “When presenting your work, you should be calm and confident. That can only be achieved with practice. The positivity we experienced in the USA is definitely a bonus,” concluded Rhea.

This article is also available in Estonian.