Wildlife conservation is an equal-opportunity field. With a little ingenuity and technical know-how, a person of any age and educational level can make a valuable contribution. Thanks to these five impressive student creations, many endangered species will be getting a much needed leg up on survival.
1. Electronic scent dispenser
Woodland Park Zoo conservation scientist Robert Long installs one of the new scent dispensers equipped with student-created processors that could revolutionize his wolverine research. (Photo: Roger Christophersen)
For years during the long winter months, wildlife researchers in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington state have studied and monitored elusive species like wolverines by releasing a scent to attract them for observation via a remote camera. Just one problem: the scent needs to be replenished every couple of weeks — no easy feat through deep snow over rugged backcountry terrain. When Microsoft researcher Mike Sinclair heard about these winter research woes, he and high school students in his STEM mentoring group came up with a perfect solution. They designed small processors that scientists at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and Idaho Fish and Game integrated into bear-proof pump devices. The electronic dispensers automatically release 3 milliliters of liquid scent lure each day for six to nine months without maintenance.
2. Mushroom water filter
Caroline Nolan was only 15 when she found a possible answer to the vexing problem of toxic algae blooms in Florida's Indian River Lagoon near her home. Caused by nutrients from wastewater discharges, the algae threaten manatees, dolphins, sea birds and fish. Nolan devised a living filter bag inoculated with Pleurotus ostreatus mushroom spores to cut nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the water. Not only does her filter remove more nitrogen than control filters, but she was also named a 2015 International Young Eco-Hero by non-profit group Action for Nature for her eco-inspired water purifier.
3. Eye in the sky on poachers
Powdered rhinoceros horn is coveted in traditional Asian medicine for curing everything from fevers to hangovers to cancer. (Photo: Derek Keats/flickr)
Endangered wildlife like rhinos are particularly vulnerable to poachers bent on claiming their prized horns. Three students at Cranfield University in the U.K. have proposed outfitting drones with high-resolution imaging technology currently used for star-gazing via space telescopes. Idriss Sisaid, Enrique Garcia Bourne and Edward Anastassacos won the Space Solutions University (S2UN) Challenge, sponsored by the European Space Agency's Technology Transfer Program, for their space-age spy cam. They hope the clearer images taken over a broader geographic range will aid wildlife rangers in their battle against illegal hunters.
Alex Spiride of Plano, Texas, combined his passions — competitive swimming and science — to create a speedy, low-noise underwater vehicle that he hopes will help marine biologists study subaquatic ecosysems without disturbing sensitive sea creatures. The Squid-Jet is a bio-design robot inspired by the natural jet propulsion system that squid and jellyfish use. It propels itself forward via an inner bladder that squeezes and pushes out water. Spiride was a 2013 Google Science Fair Global Finalist (watch his application video above) and participated in the 2014 White House Science Fair.
5. The Hoglodge: A hedgehog haven
One of the U.K.'s most charming and iconic sights is its "prickly" population of hedgehogs. Unfortunately, these shy, adorable mammals are on the decline due to their disappearing natural habitat. Antigone Frichot, a recent graduate of Kingston University’s product and furniture design program in London, decided to lend a helping hand. Her Hoglodge — a small, sturdy terracotta dome home with a raised base to keep hibernating inhabitants off the cold ground — can be placed in yards and gardens to shelter these spiky creatures from predators, wind and other potential perils.