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Article: The biggest competition for young scientists in Europe

By voyage reporter Katrin Wagner

In 1965, Henri Nannen, former editor of the German magazine Stern, established a youth science and engineering competition called Jugend forscht ('Youth researches') in response to the harsh criticism that the German education system was receiving at the time. Since then, the competition has become a highly-regarded and very popular annual event in Germany. It is jointly organised and financed by the federal government and Stern magazine, as well as by several companies and schools.

How does it work?

Jugend forscht is aimed at school and university students, between the ages of 15 and 21, who are particularly interested in science and engineering. The competition is divided into seven categories, including chemistry, mathematics, physics and technology. Entries can be submitted by individuals or by teams of up to three members. Jugend forscht has three rounds: local, regional and national, where a jury selects the best young scientists in Germany. The winners of each round are awarded generous cash or material prizes, as well as interesting internships and exciting study trips.

The team

Nils Meyer (19) and his two friends Christoph Becker (19) and Fabian Schmitthenner (18) entered the competition during their final year at Gymnasium am Treckfahrtstief in Emden (Lower Saxony). They were just three of more than 10,000 participants in this year's competition. Nils describes himself as a 'typical scientist'. His favourite subjects are Maths and Physics and as a child he took a great interest in constructing and programming 'Lego-Mindstorm' robots. Another of Nils' interests is constructing, developing and flying remote-controlled model aeroplanes. Although Nils had not taken part in Jugend forscht before, he had already won first prize in both the 'Solar Boat Competition 2008' and the 'International Sun Cup' held in Luxembourg in 2010.

The project

Between summer 2010 and January 2011 the three boys spent most of their free time working on their competition entry. The aim of the entry was to maximise the speed of solar boats by using solar energy more efficiently. A committed tutor helped the team organise the project and their school supported them financially. Even though it was not always easy, they all enjoyed doing research for the project immensely and felt particularly happy and proud whenever they made any progress and could watch the boat gliding over the water at a new maximum speed, powered only by the sun. In mid-January they submitted their entry and the nerve-racking wait began.

A prize-winning team

The team won first prize at regional and local level and had the opportunity to meet lots of like-minded young people from Lower Saxony at events run as part of the competition. Meeting the other contestants also made them realise that the competition at this level was very tough. However, the solar boat project was so strong that the team came 5th in the technology category at national level! The three young scientists received a prize of €250 and a further €1500 as a special prize from the Federal Ministry of Environment, Environmental Protection and Reactor Safety. Moreover, they were invited to visit the Federal Chancellery in Berlin and meet the Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Jugend forscht encourages and supports Germany's scientists of the future and makes a great contribution to keeping Germany's reputation as a country of scientific inventions and progress alive.

Did you know ...

... that there is a corresponding competition called 'Schüler experimentieren' (pupils experiment) for pupils under the age of 14?