Thursday, 30 March 2017 10:50

Google Thinks These 18 Teenagers Will Change the World

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The global finalists of this year’s Google Science Fair take on cyberbullying countermeasures, tar sands cleanup and wearable tech

Each year, a precocious bunch of teenagers from around the globe submits projects to the Google Science Fair, an online science competition judged by teachers, professors and, in the final round, bigwigs in the science and tech scenes.  

“We believe that universal access to technology and information can truly make the world a better place,” Google says on the contest’s website. For this reason, the search engine giant started the fair four years ago “to champion young scientific talent and give students across the world an opportunity to showcase ambitious ideas.”

This year thousands of students, ages 13 to 18, from more than 90 countries entered their very own research in biology, physics and chemistry and computer, environmental and social sciences, among other topic areas. The judges considered the inspiration and impact of the projects, as well as the research methods, communication skills and passion of the young scientists to select 90 regional finalists in June. This week, the panel announced the top 18 finalists.

These students—9 females and 9 males from 9 nations—will head to Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, next month to compete for age category awards and the grand prize. The overall winner will receive $50,000 in scholarship funding, a 10-day trip to the Galapagos with National Geographic Expeditions and a behind-the-scenes look at the Virgin Galactic Spaceport in New Mexico.

Kenneth Shinozuka, 15, United States

(Kenneth Shinozuka)

Kenneth Shinozuka of New York City has been inventing products for his grandfather, an Alzheimer’s patient, for years. First he rigged up a smart bathroom that would send an alert to his wristwatch if his grandfather fell. Then it was a smart pillbox that alerted its user to take medicine when it sounded and flashed. Now he has created a wearable device to monitor his grandfather’s wandering. “Once the patient steps onto the floor, a sensor worn on the foot will immediately detect the pressure caused by body weight and wirelessly trigger an audible alert in a caregiver’s smartphone,” he reports.

Shinozuka’s prototype consists of a film sensor, a Bluetooth-enabled sensor circuit and an app. He tested the safety device on his grandfather over the course of six months and is expanding his sample size by bringing the sensor to nursing homes—collecting data that may provide some insight into why 65 percent of Alzheimer’s patients wander.

Arsh Dilbagi, 16, India

(Arsh Dilbagi)

Call me “Robo,” says Arsh Shah Dilbagi. The 12th grader at DAV Public School in Panipat, India, is a young roboticist who has designed a next-generation Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device for people with conditions that prevent them from communicating verbally. His so-called TALK device relies on a user’s ability to emit just two distinct exhales, using Morse code to convert these short and long breaths into words and sentences, spoken in any of nine different voices reflective of gender and age. Dilbagi claims that TALK is thousands of dollars cheaper and three times faster than AAC devices currently on the market.

Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow, all 16, Ireland

(Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow)

Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow began their project in a Mendelian sort of way. The three 10th graders at Kinsale Community School in County Cork, Ireland, were looking at pea plants in Hickey’s mother’s garden when they spotted lumps on the roots, an indication of diazotroph bacteria. They learned that diazotrophs help legumes grow and wondered if they might do the same for wheat, oats and barley. Through experimentation, the girls found that strains of the bacteria sped the germination of the cereal crops by up to 50 percent and increased yields by 30 percent, on average. The scientists present their research as a means of reducing fertilizer use and combating the global food crisis.

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Author : Megan Gambino

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