6 Sensational Discoveries That Teenagers Shook the World With at the Google and Intel Science Fairs
In the US, there are science fairs every year that talented children and teenagers from all over the world can participate in (Google Science Fair, Intel ISEF). These kids probably know more than many adult scientists and their genius discoveries can change the life of our entirety humanity for the better.
We at Bright Side are impressed by the success of these young people and we want to share their impressive stories with you.
1. Lauren Hodge: The decrease of carcinogenicity in foods
Lauren Hodge was only 13 years old when she read about a lawsuit in the newspaper against a restaurant chain that didn’t warn their visitors about the carcinogenic chemicals in their grilled chicken (even though restaurants were supposed to do this according to the law). A little later, Lauren noticed that the edges of the chicken that her mother soaked in lemon juice became lighter (because of the denaturation process). Lauren had an idea that a marinade could influence the concentration of carcinogenic chemicals in grilled meat.
Lauren contacted several laboratories, and after numerous attempts, The Pennsylvania State University lab allowed the 13-year-old girl to use their equipment. Lauren marinated chicken at home, using different marinades; then she grilled it and transported it to the lab, following all the rules. There, she studied the number of carcinogenic chemicals in the chicken using their professional equipment. Here are the results of her studies:
- Lemon decreases the number of carcinogenic chemicals in grilled meat by 98%;
- Salty water and brown sugar — decreased the carcinogenic chemicals by 60%;
- Olive oil doesn’t have any statistically significant impact on the number of carcinogenic chemicals;
- Soy sauce increased the number of carcinogenic chemicals.
For her work, Lauren received a Google Science Fair award in 2011.
2. Jonah Kohn: Sensors for the hearing impaired
Jonah Kohn was playing guitar in a room where there were a lot of other musicians and he couldn’t hear the sound of his own guitar. He bit the neck of his guitar and made a discovery: the vibration went through his teeth and he could hear the sound clearly. This was how he learned about bone conduction and understood what could help hearing impaired people. He created his own device that transforms a sound wave into a vibration and sends it to special devices that people can attach to their fingers.
The testing of the device showed that people could recognize different frequencies and tones 95% better than before. Jonah is the Google Science Fair 2012 winner.
3. Jack Andraka: Test strips that diagnose cancer on the spot
Jack Andraka’s close family friend turned into a walking dead man in just 6 months and died of pancreatic cancer. 14-year-old Jack couldn’t just accept his death and decided to try to find a way to beat cancer. He didn’t know where to start and... decided to start with Google and Wikipedia. It turned out that over 85% of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed late, when someone has less than a 2% chance of survival. The reason? Today’s diagnosing method is 60 years old. It is older than Jack’s father. But also, it’s extremely expensive, costing around $800 per test. On top of that, it’s grossly inaccurate, missing about 30% of all pancreatic cancers. Your doctor would have to be ridiculously suspicious that you have this cancer in order to even give you this test.
Jack dreamed of designing his own test, and on the internet he found a list of 8,000 types of proteins that can be found in a person who has pancreatic cancer. With that he started his research to narrow down the proteins. First, the protein would not only have to be found in all pancreatic cancers at high levels in the bloodstream and in the earliest stages, but it also had to be present only when someone had the cancer. After thousands of attempts, when Jack was almost ready to give up, he found the protein he was looking for, called mesothelin. Now, he needed to design an easy way to find this protein (which hadn’t been done by any adult scientist before).
“Now, my breakthrough came in a very unlikely place, possibly the most unlikely place for innovation — my high school biology class, the absolute stifler of innovation. I had snuck this article into class on these things called carbon nanotubes which are just a long, thin pipe of carbon that’s an atom thick, and one 50,000th the diameter of your hair. And despite their extremely small size, they have these incredible properties. They’re kind of like the superheroes of material science. And while I was sneakily reading this article under my desk in my biology class, we were supposed to be paying attention to these other kind of cool molecules, called antibodies. And these are pretty cool because they only react with one specific protein, but they’re not nearly as interesting as carbon nanotubes. So then, I was sitting in class, and suddenly it hit me: I could combine what I was reading about, carbon nanotubes, with what I was supposed to be learning about, antibodies. You start with some water, pour in some nanotubes, add antibodies, mix it up, take some paper, dip it, dry it, and you can detect cancer,” Jack jokes. This was how he imagined it. He sent the algorithm to 200 labs and got 199 negative responses. Nobody was screaming, “You’re a genius” or “You will save the world.”
And only one lab replied positively to Jack’s idea. In fact, his idea turned out to have a bunch of flaws. But he solved every problem. And finally, the test strip was ready. This test is 168 times faster, 400 times more sensitive, and 26 times cheaper than the modern diagnosing technology. Jack won the Intel ISEF in 2012.
“For me, it’s all about looking at the internet in an entirely new way, to realize that there’s so much more to it than just posting duck-face pictures of yourself online. You could be changing the world. So if a 15-year-old who didn’t even know what a pancreas was could find a new way to detect pancreatic cancer — just imagine what you could do.”
4. Eesha Khare: One-minute mobile phone charger
Modern smartphones are a big part of our lives but there is one big problem: the battery life is just too short. And what’s even worse — it takes a long time to charge one. 19-year-old Eesha Khare didn’t like the way things were.
Her mother is a biologist and her father is an engineer. They insisted on her not doing any scientific work at all. But they supported her creative development, including her dance classes. According to Eesha, this approach was the key factor in her being able to see the problem from a completely different angle. Eesha was able to create a supercapacitor that can shrink the charging process of a device down to 30 seconds. She won $50,000 for her discovery that took 2nd place at Intel ISEF in 2013.
The level of Eesha’s work at the age of 19 is comparable to the work that adult PhDs can do. Now, her main project is to combine the battery capacity and the high charging speed of her supercapacitor into one device. This will allow us to not only charge our devices hundreds of times faster, but also use less electricity, and to be able to transport the electricity to the parts of the planet where people need it.
5. Erika Debenedictis: Fuel-efficient space travel
Erika was 14 years old when she traveled by bus to Florida with her parents. It was a very boring drive and her parents suggested that they should stop at a museum to take a look at Saturn V. “It was so hot that you could barely breathe. All I really hoped for was an air conditioner,” said Erika.
Erika was shocked by the size of a rocket and this was the thing that sparked Erika’s interest in space travel. Erika thought, “If space is so big, it is probably very interesting.”
But one of the biggest problems with space travel for people is fuel. Just imagine how much fuel this large thing requires (the 3rd stage of Saturn V weighs 132 tons)! In order to fly to Mars and be able to come back, it is absolutely necessary to fill the tank up. In order to deliver the fuel for filling up, you need to use another spaceship with fuel. So, we basically use oil to deliver oil to use oil!
In her project, Erika suggests developing an Interplanetary Transit Network. So, instead of simply sending a rocket from point A to point B, you need to develop the itinerary it will take. So, we need to use the gravitational forces of the solar system to help us get the spaceship to where we need it to be. Erika made a detailed plan of asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and demonstrated that the gravitational forces of Jupiter can attract and push away massive objects. Even the objects as big as Saturn V.
But the project has a downside: it would take an eternity to transport people this way. For example, it would take around 5 years to travel a distance we can already travel in several days. But still, this itinerary has a chance because we can use it to deliver the fuel for rockets by launching the fuel in advance.
Erika got 1st place in physics for her concept at ISEF in 2010.
6. Easton LaChappelle: Prosthetic limbs 170 times cheaper
Easton LaChappelle comes from a small town that has just a little over 1,300 inhabitants. He was in the 3rd grade when he met a 7-year-old girl using a limb that cost $80,000. “Oh my God, just one movement ‘open and close palm’ and one sensor for this money? Who can afford to buy something like this?”
“I really felt the opportunity to change the industry by creating a prosthetic limb that would cost less than $1,000. But I was only 14 years old and I did not have any idea where to start. I used small propellers from toy planes, fish hooks, and Legos... and created a limb that could detect the movements of a glove on the other hand.”
Easton created the limb in his room. Later, he used open-source design projects, combined them with the HP Sprout 3D-modeling technology, and created a better version of the limb. After he finished school, Easton and his friends set up a company called Unlimited Tomorrow that produces limbs. Easton also works with NASA.
The average prosthetic limb costs $60,000. Easton created a limb with the same functionality that costs only $350.
Easton is now 19 years old. “I have made quite a lot of discoveries in the past 5 years. I can sell them or I can just not share them with anyone. Or I can design a technology that will help someone. And this person who I help will be able to create something else. This is how we can improve people’s lives together.” By following this creed, Easton doesn’t make a fortune selling his products and he allows free access to all of his software. “One person can’t change the world, only many people can.”
Which of these young people impressed you the most with their discovery?
Preview photo credit Google Science Fair / Youtube