Call for Science Fair Judges as One Judge Reflects on 42 Years With FCPS' Science Fair

By Office of Communication and Community Relations
Ignite Partners
February 10, 2022

Dr. Chet Kessler, MD, is a retired family doctor who practiced medicine in Fairfax for 42 years. He has judged the Fairfax County Regional Science and Engineering Fair the same number of years and is very much looking forward to his 43rd. “It’s my ‘Rite of Spring,’” he says. “My wife and I plan vacations around it.”

Dr. Kessler’s love of science was born in a test tube in 1963. Inspired by his own biology teacher, he entered his school’s fair in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and became the Regional Grand Champion. His project was growing life in a test tube. “Growing mice,” he told us, “in 1963!”

As a judge in Fairfax, one of Dr. Kessler’s most memorable projects is that of a 9th grader. He recalls a student’s observation that one of his mother’s meals stayed preserved when a certain, sometimes hard to find Korean spice was available and included. The dish spoiled quickly however, when the spice was not used. What impressed Dr. Kessler, and what he tells new judges, is how the student made their own observations and deployed basic scientific methods to learn. Curiosity? The desire for left-overs? Either way, it’s science.

One recommendation that Dr. Kessler offers students entering this year’s science and engineering fair is to quantify parts of the work that are original to them. “Guidance at the direction of a scientist mentor is understandable, but it makes it hard to flesh out what’s original--what’s from the kid,” says Dr. Kessler.

“As a medical doctor, I think I’ve always liked being on my side of the needle.” As a judge, he remains on his side--needling, sensing anxiety, cajoling, and teaching. “I love talking with kids and helping them grow as scientists.”

Each year, more than 200 judges are needed at our Regional Science and Engineering Fair (March 9-20) to evaluate hundreds of student projects in categories from astronomy to plant sciences to robotics.    

Serving as a judge is an opportunity to interact directly with students and learn about their research interests virtually or in person. It’s a learning experience for adults, too.

If you are interested in being a judge, please register on our website. (Select “Judge’s Main” tab.) Contact Brian Mandel with questions at [email protected] or 571-423-4785. Registration closes on Friday, March 11.