Remember when winning the local science fair meant you had a neatly printed poster board or three years of data on clouds? Nowadays, thanks in part to the Internet and social media, science fairs are an amazing display of detailed research and creative innovation that showcase teens who are truly creating better living through science.
At the recent Intel Science Talent Search, high schoolers around the country showed off the various ways they were using math and science to solve the world's issues. Top awards, with prizes of $150,000 each, went to three students whose projects went leaps and bounds beyond the old science fair triboard, creating applicable solutions to real-world health and environmental issues.
Are you ready to be impressed? Here's just a snippet of what the winners have been working on:
Maya Varma of Cupertino, California, 17, won a First Place Medal of Distinction for Innovation for her project, which used $35 worth of hobby electronics and a free computer-aided design app to create a smartphone-based lung function analyzer that could be used to quickly and inexpensively diagnose five different pulmonary diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — the fourth leading cause of death in the world. While Maya's invention has obvious applications in developing countries where medical equipment is expensive and scarce, its creation was actually inspired when one of Maya's friends had a sudden asthma attack at summer camp a few years ago. Here she is explaining her research and invention in a video she created for Jimmy Fallon:
The First Place Medal of Distinction for Global Good went to 17-year-old Paige Brown of Bangor, Maine, for her work studying the water quality of various streams around Bangor and creating a low-cost filter from calcium alginate strands to remove the phosphate from stormwater systems. Brown had been shocked to learn just how much phosphorous was in her local streams — a pollutant that finds its way into waterways via fertilizer runoff. Too much phosphorus in a stream can cause eutrophication, a situation that leads to a boost in algal growth and the subsequent death of most aquatic species. Brown used styrofoam and hair clips as the prototype for her filter design.
Amol Pubjabi, a 17-year-old from Marlborough, Massachusetts, took home the First Place Medal of Distinction for Basic Research for the innovative new software that he developed that could help drug makers develop new therapies for cancer and heart disease. Punjabi combined his interest in chemistry and biology with his talent for coding to create a computer program called ViaPocket to analyze the proteins in the body and look for ways that these proteins can be targeted by new medications. When diseases strike, the proteins in the body often go haywire, making them difficult to reach with drugs. But using Punjabi's program, doctors can find normal protein chains that can be targeted to receive medication, making treatments that much more effective. Punjabi hopes to make his software available on the Internet so that doctors around the world can use it to learn more about diseases and the best ways to fight them.