Patterson also proves that. His translation glove landed him in Time magazine and GQ. The latter dubbed him “Electric Boy Genius,” and the story was nearly developed into a feature film by Disney.

Patterson is doing fine without the big-screen treatment. After graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder, he was hired by Lockheed Martin, where executives created a job specifically for him. Now he’s making a living designing things like lunar excavators that are the size of a toy truck. And even though he says he’d likely have ended up as an electrical engineer anyway, Patterson credits science fairs like Intel ISEF for helping him do his most significant work.

“Science fairs give you a focus, a motivation to complete a project, rather than just tinkering around for a few weeks on one thing or another,” he says.

Still, Patterson doesn’t expect to see an Intel ISEF winner on the cover of GQ anytime soon. Nor does he expect that kids with no interest in science and math will suddenly become involved because they see an Intel ISEF winner on a game show.

But he and others like him are convinced that Intel ISEF and science fairs in general will play a critical role in the nation’s future. “We really are falling behind the rest of the world as far as science and engineering go, so we need to encourage kids as soon as we can,” he says.

Okay, then. So who wants to talk more about knots?