Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that humanity is in for some very significant challenges in the coming decades—in short, there are likely to be food, fresh water and energy crises that all happen at around the same time. This isn't just speculation by some pessimistic scientists, either—this past week a NASA-funded report looked at the liklihood of society collapse, and found it wouldn't take much to push us over the edge—and a team that includes Stephen Hawking is looking at what exactly those catestrophic events could be. 

All the assumptions in the model referenced in the study above are made based on the idea that we keep going in 'business-as-usual" fashion—which may or may not happen, of course. But one thing we do know is that change often comes from the young. And if the teenaged winners (heck, even the runners-up) of the Intel Science Talent Search are an indication, we have some real hope for the future.

The Intel Science Talent Search has been going on for over 49 years (it used to be sponsored by Westinghouse back in the day) and awards serious cash—and plenty of prestige, which goes a long way when you are trying to get into college, or pay for it—to young scientists studying a variety of topics. 

According to the competition's website: "Students are selected based upon their scientific research and also on their overall potential as future leaders of the scientific community. Intel STS recognizes and rewards 300 students, as well as their schools, as semifinalists each year. From that select pool, 40 finalists are then invited to Washington, DC in March to undergo final judging, display their work to the public, meet with notable scientists, and compete for $630,000 in awards, including the top award of $100,000."

Just take a look as some of the semi-finalists' projects (never mind the winners)! Some of my favorites include: 

Anne Merrill's project, "Comparative Suppression of Soil-Borne Pathogens via Earthworm Bioturbation of Natural and Man-Made Biochars" could have implications for a warming world wherein soil-borne diseases are more likely to spread. Thabit Pulak's project, "Affordable Home-based Bio-sand Arsenic Water Filter and Rapid Arsenic Water Test Using Nanotechnologywould make it simple and easy to check for water quality—especially necessary as fresh water resources decline in the future. Or, check out the algae biofuel project the student in the video below is working on—a system like hers could have implications for transportation while simultaneously slowing fossil-fuel exacerbated climate change. 

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Science-loving teens offer hope for the challenges of the future
The winners of the Intel Science Talent Search might only be in high school, but they are already working on some of humanity's biggest challenges.