Luxembourg teen impresses at US science fair

Maxime Buck presenting his Marbles VR application during the national Jonk Fuerscher science contest in March this year. Photo: Jonk Fuerscher

Maxime Buck presenting his Marbles VR application during the national Jonk Fuerscher science contest in March this year. Photo: Jonk Fuerscher

Maxime Buck, a student at the Lycée Michel Rodange, won fourth prize for systems software at this year’s Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (Isef), the world’s largest youth science competition.

Buck, who also participates in the Luxembourg Tech School, for a national science contest in Luxembourg developed a virtual reality application, Marbles VR. The puzzle game includes hand-tracking and mechanics for a virtual game of marbles, and a “relaxing and immersive experience.”

The annual Jonk Fuerscher national science competition is open to young people aged 11 to 21, who must submit an original research project to a jury. Prizes at the annual event include participating in international science fairs, such as Isef.

“The best part of participating in Isef was the opportunity to meet and interact with other young researchers from around the world,” Buck told Delano. “It was truly inspiring to witness their passion for science and learn about their innovative projects.”

The event also helped him receive feedback on his own work. “The trip has been an incredible learning experience,” he said, allowing him to grow his understanding of scientific processes, improve his public speaking and presentation skills but also develop his own project further. “I feel that I have grown both academically and personally.”

The 16-year-old programmed more than 1,000 lines of code and spent upwards of 200 hours on the project, which innovates in the way it handles hand tracking.

It impressed Isef judges sufficiently to award Buck fourth place in the systems software category of the fair’s Grand Awards. The prize comes with a $500 reward, which he plans to use to “further invest in my scientific endeavours”, for example by buying new equipment.

More than 1,600 teenagers from around the world competed in 21 scientific disciplines at Isef, hosted this year in Dallas, Texas, from 13 to 19 May. Buck risked disqualification during a pre-selection phase, as rigorous standards meant allowing people to try the application as part of the Jonk Fuerscher contest was nearly considered unauthorised human testing.

“I had a lucky escape,” said Buck, after he was able to defend himself during a preliminary jury interview.

Buck plans to add more levels to his application and improving the game before making it available for download on SideQuest.