GENIUS Olympiad to draw young researchers to Oswego

Fehmi Damkaci, an assistant professor of chemistry at SUNY Oswego, is leading an effort to attract high school GENIUSes from around the globe to do research and artwork on environmental issues.

The top entrants in the first GENIUS Olympiad—it stands for Global Environmental Issues U.S.—will spend five days in Oswego next summer showing what young brainpower can accomplish.

Damkaci, who helped co-found the Summer Science Immersion program here with the Syracuse Academy of Science in 2009, acknowledges the idea came, in part, from other Olympics-themed competitions, such as Intel Science Olympiads. The GENIUS Olympiad is the next step in his effort to encourage younger students to discover the excitement and discipline of scientific research and solutions.

“Every year, the research component has been increasing in high schools,” Damkaci said. “This will be another outlet for young scientists.”

Rewards offered

Like the other competitions, GENIUS will offer scholarships, prizes and medals to student researchers whose projects are judged best in their categories. Unlike the others, SUNY Oswego is trying to fuse science and art for a June 26 to 30 celebration of youthful initiative and creativity.

“We are consulting with an artist to help define how to integrate art into the competition,” Damkaci said. “We defined categories of the art: cartoon, short film and animation, graphic poster and installation art.”

Benefits to SUNY Oswego and the surrounding community would include increased interest in the college among top students in sciences and arts, as well as exposure for area tourism, he said.

The competition’s website,, which launched this summer, invites high school students, with the help of advisers, to submit research projects for consideration in ecology and biodiversity, resources and energy, environmental quality, human ecology and, in a special category, removal of oil from water.

An advisory board that so far includes Interim Provost Lorrie Clemo and representatives from science departments, Campus Life and the Office of Business and Community Relations has put out the call for preregistrations. Specific research project applications are due in February.

Worldly interest

Damkaci said the competition already has received expressions of interest from a dozen high schools in countries as far flung as the Philippines and India, Russia and Mozambique.

“We want to attract entries from at least 20 countries, with two high schools represented from each country,” Damkaci said. “We also want entrants from 20 to 30 states, with two to three schools per state.”

Fundraising is key. Damkaci is applying for grants from the National Science Foundation and American Chemical Society and seeking donor gifts.

He said pledges already total $25,000, and he is working on in-kind contributions. He has a commitment worth about $20,000 for website development, catalog design and scholarly poster printing from a New York City-based company, he said.

The competition’s busy agenda will include science talks and ceremonies in the Campus Center auditorium and poster and art exhibits in Hewitt Union, all open to the public. The invited visitors will have social events and trips, such as one to Niagara Falls and Waterloo Premium Outlets.

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(Posted: Sep 16, 2010)

Tags: science, research, education pipeline, chemistry