Inspiring Imagination Grounded in Reality

The Toshiba-sponsored ExploraVision competition helps students expand their imaginations.

The Toshiba-sponsored ExploraVision competition helps students expand their imaginations.

At the Bob Jones High School in Madison, AL, students designed an artificial intelligence-based system to neutralize pesticides and sustain honeybee populations. 

ExploraVision, sponsored by Toshiba America, is the world’s largest kindergarten through 12th grade science competition. The competition aims to help young students expand their imagination while developing an interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). This program is sponsored by Toshiba and administered by the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA). This past year marked the 29th year of this partnership. 

Eddie Temistokle is a director of corporate communications for Toshiba America. We spoke to Eddie to learn more about this competition and what it encompassed. 

Digital Engineering: Can you provide an overview of the Annual ExploraVision Competition, how it came to be and the intent of the program? Who will be participating or who has participated? How many participants have you had or are you expecting? Any demographics of participants?

Eddie Temistokle: Each year, students work in teams to imagine and envision what technology might be like in 10+ years and propose new ideas based on a challenge that already exists. From there, the students simulate real scientific research to outline how they plan to test their idea and build websites to further illustrate and communicate their concepts.

From the entries, judges choose eight national winning teams comprised of a first-place winner and second-place winner from four groups based on grade level. Members of first place national winning teams each receive a $10,000 U.S. Series EE Savings Bond (at maturity). Members of second place national winning teams will each receive a $5,000 U.S. Series EE Savings Bond (at maturity).

Nearly 2,000 team projects entered the Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision competition this year, comprised of more than 5,000 students from across the United States and Canada. To date, nearly 450,000 students have competed in the competition over the past 25 years.  

DE: Can you tell us about some of the designs that are part of the event and how they came to be?

Temistokle: This year’s winners have gone above and beyond to think critically and creatively about the biggest problems facing our world, from healthcare challenges to sustainability efforts to energy efficiency. Projects include an artificial intelligence-powered toothbrush that can detect viruses, eco-friendly diapers that reduce carbon emissions, and a reusable electromagnetic repulsion system designed to reduce the cost of launching rockets into space.

DE: Can you provide some examples of what the event has produced or what you expect it to produce?

Temistokle: Considering just a few of this year’s winners:

The Toothbrush of Future is a technology invention dreamed up by a team of second graders from Lockwood Elementary in Bothell, WA, is equipped with a camera and sensors, to identify the presence of viruses such as COVID-19 or the flu.

The Coagulation Filtration System is a solar-powered technology designed to remove ecosystem-damaging microplastics from water through the employment of plastic-eating microbe Ideonella sakaiensis, is an innovative approach to water filtration aiming to provide safe drinking water to the more than 2 billion people worldwide that currently draw drinking water from contaminated sources. 

The Mag-Launcher is a reusable electromagnetic repulsion system designed to reduce the cost of launching rockets and advance space exploration while causing minimal harm to the environment. 

Shiitake Diapers is a project that tackles two issues surrounding climate change—carbon emissions and landfills—with fully biodegradable diapers.

DE: Does Toshiba and NSTA have a particular stance on adopting an innovation that is linked to the program?  What drove them to sponsor the event and coordinate it?

Temistokle: Fostering young minds’ interest in STEM is at the core of Toshiba—a company committed to raising the quality of life for people around the world. This commitment drove the company to partner with NSTA to create the ExploraVision competition in 1992. For 29 consecutive years, ExploraVision has helped cultivate the next generation of scientists, technology experts, engineers, mathematicians and more.

The program not only helps to envision a more technologically advanced and life-changing future but is generating inspiration among students who will eventually fill these vital careers in STEM fields.

DE: Anything else you’d like to tell us about the event that the above questions haven’t given you the opportunity to express?

Temistokle: This 29th year of the ExploraVision program saw tremendous challenges for schools, teachers and students around the world due to the global pandemic. This year’s achievements in critical and creative thinking are made even more impressive by the challenges many have overcome in navigating education during COVID-19. We applaud our winners and all our entrants for their resilience as well as their ideas for new technologies and smart solutions that improve and enhance our lives and communities.

Since its inception, students have been coming up with innovative ideas and as technology and software become more ubiquitous, the ideas get more realistic. For example, K-3 grades came up with the idea of PAL in 1993 (like iWatch), a fridge with a brain in 1996 and Smart Touch First Aid Kit (virtual doctor visits) in 2010. Recently, there are many students even lower grades like 4-6 are using 3D software to create video presentation.

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, VA. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected]

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Jim Romeo

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, VA. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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