Inventing Tomorrow follows six young scientists from Indonesia, Hawaii, India and Mexico as they tackle some of the most complex environmental issues facing humanity today – right in their own backyards. Each student is preparing original scientific research that he or she will defend at ISEF, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Framed against the backdrop of the severe environmental threats we now face, we immerse the audience in a global view of the planetary crisis, through the eyes of the generation that will be affected by it most.
Considered the Olympics of high school science fairs, ISEF is the largest gathering of high school scientists in the world, attracting approximately 1,800 finalists from over 75 countries, regions and territories. All the finalists want to do a good job, but the heart of the story isn’t about whether they go home with an award. As they take water samples from contaminated lakes, dig up the dirt in public parks, board illegal pirate mining ships, and test their experiments in a lab, we see each student display a tenacious curiosity, and a determination to build a better future. Motivated by the desire to protect their homes, these young people are asking questions about the issues they observe in their communities, and proposing innovative solutions to fix them.
The students spend close to 600 hours each on their projects, guided in their scientific quest by dedicated university mentors. At home with their parents, grandparents, and siblings, they compare the world their elders knew with the stark reality of the one they’re inheriting.
But they’re still teenagers, with their own unique struggles. We spend time with them in classrooms, at after-school jobs, behind the wheel as they learn to drive, and in their rooms hanging out with friends, and learn more about the obstacles they face just to get to the fair. As each finalist prepares to leave home, some for the very first time, we witness their unique intellectual and emotional journeys on the way to ISEF 2017 in Los Angeles.
Once they land in Los Angeles, our characters join a vibrant, excited community of young students from around the globe. They meet peers who are just as bright and determined as they are, competing in every category of STEM, from Robotics to Computer Science. The tension builds as they practice how to defend their research in front of 1000 volunteer judges, all specialists in their fields.
Beyond the gauntlet of judging, the week is a whirlwind of social activities, field trips, and exploring brand-new foods in the cafeteria. The students form bonds that many call life changing. Regardless of who wins an award, they all discover a community that celebrates their ingenuity and enthusiasm. They meet peers who turn into lifelong friends; other kids like themselves who believe in a shared vision of environmental stewardship and collective action.
When the fair ends, we follow our characters home to witness how they process their experiences. Some leave with a renewed sense of purpose and continue their project at university. Others are inspired to pursue a new direction. But as they integrate their time at ISEF into the next phase of their lives, they all realize they’re not alone. They’ve finally met other kids like themselves who believe in a shared vision of environmental stewardship and collective action.