First Prize Winner at Intel International Science and Engineering Fair

Piotr Lazarek
|  Created: August 19, 2019  |  Updated: May 5, 2020

My name is Piotr Lazarek, and I’m a second year student at the “Filomata” secondary school in Gliwice. Since 2017 I have been engaged in developing new technologies within the sector of precision agriculture, and for my most recent project I worked on the creation of an autonomous vehicle which uses a replaceable ion-selective electrode system in order to measure concentrations of different elements inside soil. This work generates useful data with which farmers are empowered to make better decisions regarding crop development, due to the fact that it performs measurements on site in a manner which significantly decreases the financial and time costs of such work. In order to learn more about it, I encourage you to read my previous article

This time I would like to write about my experience related to my participation in the largest pre-college science competition in the world; an amazing journey for me, so I’d like to start from the beginning. 

About two years ago I decided to create my own science project and was looking for inspiration. My research led me to the conclusion that no technology yet existed in the agricultural marketplace capable of conducting autonomous measurements of soil condition, and so from that moment I dedicated literally every nanosecond of free time I had to design and build such a device. 

After an exciting, if not gruelling half a year of hard work in my garage, I was pleased to be able to present my solution at the regional stage of “E(x)plory”—the largest science competition in Poland, where I was confronted with my first opportunity to offer my work for scrutiny under the gaze of esteemed scientific judgment. 

I must admit to being extremely nervous, perhaps even verging on terrified, however during my conversations with judges I came to realise that I was in fact something of a specialist within my specific remit—a thought which boosted me with a lot of self-confidence. To my honest surprise, it ultimately went very well, thanks to which I was then given the opportunity to participate in the next stage of this competition. 

At the national stage, I had the honor to compete with over 30 great scientific projects, and after two further intensive judging days, we were invited to the grand prize awards ceremony. When I heard that my project had won the first prize I was stunned. I couldn’t believe that it had really happened, and to be honest, until that moment I hadn’t known that my work was of any value at all. I was also very excited because the award awaiting me and three other teams was an opportunity to represent our country in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair held in Phoenix, Arizona.

Intel ISEF is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. Each year, millions of students compete in local and school-sponsored science fairs. The winners participate in regional and state competitions, from which first place award winners win the opportunity to attend Intel ISEF and compete for more than 5 million dollars in prizes. This year, over 1,800 high school students from over 80 countries were named as finalists in this competition. 

Our trip to the USA began at Warsaw Airport and with delays lasted a total of about 48 hours, because unfortunately we managed to miss our connecting flight in Chicago. In the end, we finally arrived in Phoenix on Monday morning and immediately fell in love with the place. The weather was perfect—about 38 degrees Celsius under a clear, blue sky. There were Intel ISEF posters, banners and information sites strewn all over the place, and major buildings such as the Sheraton Hotel and Convention Center completely dedicated for the use of Intel ISEF guests. The number of people involved was incredible—about 1800 finalists, 900 judges and more than 1,000 volunteers. The whole city seemed to be excited about this event and so were we. 

The first day was all about preparation. After we checked in, we had to create a poster with Polish attributes and make a short video with it. Then we were invited to the Opening Ceremony where we participated in an event called “Country Shout Out”. It was great fun to be a part of; please click the link below in order to watch it!

Next we went to prepare our booths. On the way to the main exhibition hall we saw a gigantic poster filled with Intel ISEF’s finalist names, where suddenly it hit home that I was part of something much bigger than myself and that I really wanted to meet the challenge. I know that my friends felt the same way, because we spent that very afternoon practising our presentations, which was extremely tough because we knew the soft spots and weaknesses or one another’s projects, and we tried to undermine each other by touching on them. 

On Thursday morning we all met in front of our prepared booths and practised our presentations for the last time. After that we really wanted to calm down (we were very nervous, because the next day was a judging day) so we decided to go on a trip to the nearby desert. The views there were breathtaking! And quiet! Which was what we needed the most. We came back to our apartments fully freshened up and immediately fell asleep. 

Finally after a few days of preparation, we were standing in front of our booths waiting for the first judge to appear. In my case I was a bit unsure when I spoke with my judge at first, but after few minutes I noticed a smile on his face, which was a good omen as everything changed in me after that moment as I became completely confident and calm.

At the end of the day we were really exhausted. In my case all of the conversations had gone very well and I was extremely excited about the Grand Award Ceremony which was going to be held the next day. 

On Thursday morning all of the finalists, judges, and volunteers gathered in the main hall. I think that at that time all of us felt a mixture of excitement and relief, because we had done everything we could have done and knew that the final verdict was no longer in our hands. 

After a while we finally learned that the our Polish team had broken a national record by winning 4 awards! I was beyond proud! I am also very happy to be able to tell you that my project won first place in the category of environmental engineering. What an honour. 

If you would like to see glimpses of the Grand Awards Ceremony, please click on this link.

I also encourage you to watch the ISEF 2019 Highlights video in order to learn more about this great event: 

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About Author

About Author

Piotr Lazarek is an 18 year old Polish student, and creator of the ALISA, Autonomous Land Ion-Selective Analyser, science project. For over five years he has been interested in physics and modern technologies, and has received scholarships from the National Foundation for Talented Youths and the Polish High-Tech foundation. Piotr has also received numerous awards, including 1st place in the E(x)plory competition, 2nd place in the National Stage of the European Union Contest for Young Scientists, as well as a finalist at the Intel ISEF international science fair. In recognition of his work, he has been named “Innovator of Tomorrow”. Piotr currently devotes his time to learning the basic elements of electronics, PCB design and microcontrollers programming.

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