The State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida (SSEF) is a three-day display of science project exhibits prepared by sixth- to 12th-grade students who aspire to careers as scientists and engineers. More than 900 finalists display thoroughly researched projects in 13 different categories, such as plant sciences, environmental sciences and environmental engineering.
“For many years, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) professionals from a variety of scientific program areas have comprised some of the 400 judges that are needed for both junior and senior sections,” FDACS Marketing Representative Arlette Roberge says. “Judging is the single most important event of the SSEF.”
FDACS has a particularly strong interest in the students competing at SSEF. With estimates showing that Florida’s population will grow to nearly 34 million people by 2070, the agricultural industry will be relying more and more on scientific advances to produce greater amounts of food.
“Scientists and engineers are needed in the areas of livestock production and nutrition, pesticide management, aquaculture production and engineering, water and land conservation management, irrigation systems, genetic engineering, food safety and engineering, plant breeding, soil analysis, timber production, biofuels, and a myriad of other agriculture-related careers,” Roberge says.
With that in mind, FDACS developed an online resource called Planet Ag, which allows students to investigate the scientific method as it relates to various agricultural topics.
“Planet Ag offers topic ideas in categories students will use to compete for SSEF awards at the local, regional, state and national levels,” Roberge says.
Science fair project ideas offered through Planet Ag range from biochemistry and botany to environmental sciences and zoology. Previous science fair participants have completed projects on the use of algae as biofuel; the effects of toxins on tomato plants, salinity and shrimp production; solar cooking methods; and how drought impacts corn plants.
Educators and parents alike see the benefit of encouraging students to explore these subjects, as they open the door for students to enter STEM-related careers. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.
Planet Ag is available on FDACS’ website and receives between 22,000 and 45,000 views per year as Florida’s best and brightest students begin to plan their exhibits for the acclaimed SSEF.
With resources such as Planet Ag, teachers can encourage their students to consider agricultural topics they may have otherwise overlooked and potentially set them on a path toward a career in Florida’s agriculture industry.