In honour of Google’s announcement of the 15 finalists for its 2013 Science Fair, we compiled our list of the most wild, inspiring, and exciting science fair projects from years past.
These are 16 of the most impressive teenager-led science projects we could find. And they all began with a simple question and a love of science.
These aren’t foam volcanoes. These are cancer preventing chicken marinades and self-driving cars, nuclear fusion reactors and microbes that “eat” plastic.
These teenagers have made world-changing discoveries at a time in their lives when the rest of us were scam our way through geometry class.
The teen from Dallas, Texas settled a long-standing debate between her parents over the merits of organic produce by feeding organic and conventional foods to fruit flies.
She began the project while still in middle school, and eventually submitted it to the 2011 Broadcom Masters science fair and was named one of the fair's 30 finalists.
She found that organically fed flies lived longer, had more babies, and showed more resistance to stress. Her research garnered headlines and settled the argument between her proud parents.
Here is her game-changing paper, which she published in the journal PLoS ONE in January.
Chhabra told the New York Times that she is considering MIT and Brown University for college, though she 'has not ruled any school in or out.'
Plastic bags are cheap and handy, but they suck for the environment. They last for years before they finally break down and wreak a lot of havoc in the process.
Canadian high-schooler Daniel Burd wondered why we can't just isolate the microorganisms that slowly 'eat' the plastic and concentrate them to speed up the process. In just six weeks his microbes reduced the volume of plastic by 43%.
The technology has to be tested much further, and the microbes would have to be contained somehow, said Karl Burkhardt on Mother Nature Network.
He took home first prize in the Canada-Wide Science Fair for his research called Plastic Not Fantastic and gave both environmentalists and dolphins a new reason to be stoked.
We're getting ever closer to the day when smartphones are sewn right onto our hands, but battery technology is still pretty lame. But the problem is not necessarily that batteries run out, its that they take so. Long. To. Charge.
Eesha Khare of Saratoga designed a supercapacitor that might cut that process down a lot... to 30 seconds. Important to note that Khare used her device to charge a tiny LED, not a bulky smartphone, but this is still a huge leap in the right direction.
The project earned Khare a $50,000 check and second place at Intel ISEF 2013.
Yamini Naidu's research looks at how addiction affects people at the molecular level, and use the connections between brain chemistry and addictive behaviour to help develop new drugs (the medicinal kind) to treat meth addiction.
She identified the particular receptor to which methamphetamine binds itself in the brain, and designed compounds that could block meth from attaching itself to the receptor.
If her designs become actual drugs, they could make it much easier to quit using. Why would you keep taking a drug that doesn't get you high?
Here is her project.
Raymond Roberge was 35 before his research was published in a scientific journal. But his son Marc was only 17.
The younger Roberge earned it, though. He figured out that a common household clothing iron could kill anthrax spores inside an envelope without damaging any other contents, such as a handwritten letter or a perpetrator's fingerprints.
He didn't use actual anthrax, which, as he told Tucker Carlson on MSNBC, would get him in a bit of trouble with government.
Instead he ordered a similar strain -- bacillus subtilis -- from a biotech company called SGM Biotech. Bacilllus subtilis is so closely related to anthrax it is commonly used by researchers as a surrogate to the deadly bacteria. It is also more heat-resistant than anthrax, adding a boost to Roberge's findings.
His research was published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology in June of 2006 and was no doubt read very closely by every member of the Bush-era White House.
Jonah Kohn found out how to help deaf people hear by biting down on his guitar.
Trying to hear himself play guitar in a noisy classroom led him to realise that if he bit the top of his guitar, the sound traveled through his teeth, into his skull and could be understood by his eardrums.
He used that insight to show how vibrational sound can dramatically improve the sound that deaf people hear, by sending sounds through people's bones.
He developed a device that sends sounds to people's brains through tactile sound 'speakers' placed on their fingers. Some of his subjects reported a remarkable increase in their ability to hear sound, with one group reporting more than a 95% increase in sound quality.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women, and strangely the kinds of cancer cells that form in ovaries are resistant to chemotherapy.
16-year-old Texan Shree Bose figured out why -- her project identified an enzyme AMPK (activated-protein kinase) that makes cancer cells resistant to treatment.
Her research required 40 hours of labwork, but paid off. She won the Grand Prize at the first Google Science Fair in 2011. She now studies at Harvard, where we recently named her one of the school's 20 Most Impressive Undergraduates. Her findings could have tremendous implications in cancer research.
And then, yes, someone named a planet after her.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
Like many young people in this list who have taken on cancer in their science projects, Jack Andraka -- a 15-year-old kid from Maryland -- watched a close family member suffer from the disease, and wanted to do something to help others.
His method of using thin sheets of carbon nanotubes to detect cancers in their early stages is 168 times faster, 400 times more sensitive, and 26,000 times cheaper that current cancer detection technology.
Here is how it works: He took a sheet of paper lined with carbon nanotubes (which seem to be useful for just about everything) and coated it with antibodies for mesothelin -- a protein present in pancreatic cancer.
Some 'extra-curricular reading' on carbon nanotubes in the middle of biology class inspired Andraka to put together a plan and contacted 200 scientists for help. All except one of them -- Anirban Maitra of John's Hopkins -- rejected his plan.
Maitra later told the Baltimore Sun, 'what I tell my lab is, 'think of Thomas Edison and the light bulb.' This kid is the Edison of our times. There are going to be a lot of light bulbs coming from him.'
Andraka won the Gordon E. Moore Award at Intel ISEF in 2012.
Erika DeBenedictis is now a student at Caltech, but she was only 14 years old when on a family trip to Cape Canaveral when she realised just how big and interesting space actually is.
She put that interest toward solving one of the most most basic, but intractable, challenges to space travel, fuel costs.
Our only known source of fuel for rockets is on Earth. So the further you go into space, the more expensive fuel becomes -- even transporting extra fuel reserves into space requires... more fuel.
Some have suggested mining asteroids for fuel, using solar power, or other means. DeBenedictis wants to space ships to use gravitational fields and the forces generated by the movement of planets to propel spacecraft the way wind and currents propel sailboats and rafts on water.
DeBenedictis says we can use these space currents to replace fuel canisters for spaceships to pick up and use later, removing the cost of launching fuel reserves into space.
It won her First Place Grand Award in Physics at the ISEF in 2010, and launched her career in computer science.
Martin Schneider and Joshua Li have an ingenious little project that takes advantage of our need to compete with each other.
They found that students playing educational games scored better when they played against a (fake) competitor named 'Bob' than when they simply played against an unknown competitor.
Turns out that familiarity with a competitor (like knowing its name) is enough to push us a little harder to leave him in the dust.
The idea made the two 14-year olds finalists in the 2011 Google Science Fair.
When a group of physicians filed a lawsuit against some restaurant and fast food chains, claiming they didn't warn customers about the carcinogenic effects of grilling meat, Lauren Hodge knew she had an idea.
She saw that some lemon juice her mother was using to marinate chicken changed the colour of the meat, and wondered if that could block the formation of these carcinogens. It did indeed -- the more acidic marinades using lemon juice had the greatest effect, while olive oil seemed to actually make things worse.
The research earned her a prize at the Google Science Fair, showing that some of the best ideas for science research are right under our noses.
Brittany Wenger was the Grand Prize winner at the 2012 Google Science Fair, and is, well, kind of an All-Star. She started programming computers in seventh grade.
Then, after seeing her cousin struggle with breast cancer, she decided to put her talents toward developing a cloud-based program that helps doctors diagnose the deadly disease. (Check out the final project here.)
Not all lumps in the breast spread throughout the body, but accurately diagnosing the ones could early on is crucial to surviving the disease.
The easiest and least painful test for breast cancer, fine-needle aspiration, is also horribly unreliable. Improving its accuracy would give doctors a cheap, quick and relatively painless tool for detecting cancers early. It would be like sharpening a butter knife into a surgical scalpel.
She spent an entire year learning about breast cancer, and another year teaching herself Java to code the application. Her first two prototypes were failures. Then, it worked.
The program is 99.1% accurate, about 5% better than the leading commercial product, according to Wenger. Once someone inputs the necessary information, every important decision is made by the software. The computer also 'learns' and grows more accurate as it examines more data.
Wenger has received some datasets from research institutions, and hopes that the program will soon be used by hospitals and clinics in actual diagnosis. She plans to major in computer science and biology in college.
Ionut Budisteanu, 19, traveled all the way from Romania to enter his self-driving car into the Intel International Science and Engineering Festival In Arizona in May 2013.
Other folks are working on self-driving cars (most famously, Google), but the technology used to power them is expensive. Budisteanu's design brings the cost down to a mere $4000.
Most of the systems the big guys are working on make use of effective but expensive high-resolution 3-D radar (which is what is mounted on the roof of the car). But Budisteanu says a lower-resolution radar will still detect the big dangers -- trees, cars, and pedestrians -- while inexpensive cameras can do the rest of the work, like seeing lane lines and curbs.
His design is not perfect, but it is promising. He has already attracted some interest from investors in his native Romania, according to Darren Quick of Gizmag. But it doesn't sound like he is in this for the money.
'I want to be a researcher and university professor to make research to help the world to develop,' Budisteanu said at the Intel ISEF awards ceremony (see video below). 'This is the purpose of mankind -- to create some inventions and to create some projects in order to help the entire population and the entire world.'
Here is a video he made showing how his system works:
Easton LaChappelle hails from Colorado and according to a recent TED talk he gave loves to build things.
He used 3-D printing technology to build a low-cost prosthetic arm when he met a girl whose own robotic arm cost $8000. LaChappelle's is only $250.
He came in second in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and took his invention to the White House Science Fair and demo'd it for President Obama.
Thiago Olson, Conrad Farnsworth, and Taylor Wilson all joined a short list of people who have home brewed nuclear fusion reactors or accelerators in there garages, backyards, or basements.
Thiago was the first of the three, building his when he was only 15 in his garage in Michigan. He went on to graduate rom Vanderbilt and co-found a company called Protean Payment.
Conrad Farnsworth built his in 2012 at the age of 18. He tried to enter it into a science fair in his home state of Wyoming but was disqualified on that grounds that.... he competed in too many science fairs.
And Taylor Wilson, built his at the tender age of 14. He later attended the University of Nevada, Reno, but dropped out when tech billionaire Peter Thiel awarded him one of the prestigious Thiel Fellowships, 'a no-strings-attached grant of $100,000 to skip college' and focus on his dream of working in nuclear science.
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