Google, the search engine giant, with its first Google Science Fair, is getting into the science fair business. A global competition for teenagers that spans sciences as diverse as computer engineering, space exploration and medical technology. The event is still unnamed and does not have deep roots into the topic like its competitors Intel or Siemens. But Google stands out as it's most familiar among children as compared to the other three. With the science fair, Google aims to play an even bigger role in their lives by encouraging young scientists to experiment – and to use Google products while they're at it. Google's science fair is different from the others in a major way: Entrants submit their projects online, using Google products like Gmail, YouTube and Google Docs and Sites. It's the modern-day version of showing up at the school gymnasium to demonstrate lava-spewing volcanoes or bacteria colonies in petri dishes. It also serves another purpose. By putting its products in the hands of budding scientists, Google is trying to make its brand central to students' lives, just as Nike does when it outfits top high school football teams. Vint Cerf, chief Internet evangelist at Google and a science fair judge, insists that Google's motivation is not to attract long-term customers. “The real motivation is to help stimulate kids' interest in science and technology, and we hope infect other parts of the population in their excitement,” he said. Google has struggled to make inroads into offices, where Microsoft software still rules. If Google convinces high school students that its products – for example, SketchUp, Google Body or Google Goggles – are useful, they could use them at work later on. Their mission is also part of a broader one to improve science and math education in the United States. Participation in science fairs nationwide has tapered off, largely because teachers facing budget cuts and overcrowded classrooms lack the time and resources to coach students. Google winners will attend an awards ceremony at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and receive a trip to the Galapagos with National Geographic, a week with astrophysicists at CERN or an internship at Lego.
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