At the recent 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the CEOs of GE, Cisco Systems, and Xerox worried that America's K-12 education system was failing to prepare students for the demands of the technology industry.
Google will be putting that premise to the test. It has launched the Google Science Fair, an online science competition that's open to students around the world, or most of it anyway. Students from Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Myanmar/Burma, Syria, Zimbabwe or any other country facing U.S. sanctions need not apply.
There's also the language requirement: All entries must be submitted in English, or in German, Italian, Spanish, or French with an English translation for the judges.
"Our hope is to create a new way for millions of students to pursue their interest in science through a global online competition," said Tom Oliveri, director of global marketing for Google Apps and Enterprise, in a phone interview.
Certainly there's an element of marketing in the contest. Students are being invited to compete in groups of up to three by setting up a Google Site to present their science project online. Students are expected to conduct an experiment in one of 11 suggested areas, record their observations, and present them on their Google Site project page, within the boundaries laid out by the contest rules.
But the contest also reflects Google's concern that budgetary woes, at least in the U.S., endanger science education. And in science fairs, Google sees what it has seen in the markets it has entered: inefficiency and lack of scale. The company aims to bring science fairs into the Internet age.
"The Web is cost effective," said Oliveri. "We believe that science can change we world...We started with a scientific experiment about how to organize the world's information."
The Google Science Fair is being conducted in partnership with CERN, The LEGO Group, National Geographic and Scientific American. These organizations will be providing some of the prizes that will be awarded, like trips to the Galapagos Islands with a National Geographic Explorer and to CERN in Switzerland.
Google will be accepting submissions from January 11 through April 4, 2011. Fifteen semi-finalists will be selected and a winner will be announced at Google's corporate headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., on July 11, 2011.
If you meet the participation criteria, you can register here.