While science fair projects still typically consist of papier mache volcanoes, LEGO robots, and crystals grown in a jar, many students these days are going above and beyond the staples, taking on projects that would even be awe-inspiring as a college thesis. From exploring the effectiveness of cancer treatments to revolutionizing the disposal of plastics, these students prove you don't have to be an adult to have amazing, world-changing ideas about science. Take a look at these 20 amazing science fair projects we've listed here. They may just inspire you to step up your game in your own college-level science courses.
1. Nuclear Fusion Reactor — Thiago Olsen
With a budget of only $3,500, Michigan high school student Thiago Olsen built a nuclear fusion reactor in his garage when he was only 15 years old. How did he do it? He studied physics textbooks, used vacuum pump manuals, and surfed the Web for the best deals on parts. While his device is not self-sustaining and produces fusion only on a small scale, it's a pretty impressive feat for any teenager.
2. Diesel Hybrid Car — West Philadelphia High School
Working as a team at West Philadelphia High School, students constructed a diesel-hybrid race car that can go from zero to 60 in just four seconds. If that speed wasn't already impressive enough, the vehicle also gets more than 60 miles to the gallon. The students constructed it for entry into the Automotive X contest, with a grand prize of $10 million — the only high schoolers in the nation to do so. They are reworking their design to improve their chances of winning, and hope to get the car up to 100 mpg.
3. Chemical-Sniffing LEGO Robot — Anna Simpson
Many a science fair project involves LEGOs, but few on the level that Anna Simpson's does. Her robot, built of the plastic blocks, is capable of sniffing out toxic chemicals and other hazards, keeping humans at a safe distance. Simpson's work won her the California State Science Fair and could have a number of industrial and public safety applications if adapted.
4. Reducing CO2 Emissions — Jun Bing and Alec Wang
Using a process known as acid base neutralization, Bing and Wang developed a device capable of sequestering carbon dioxide gas released from cars (and other sources) that burn fossil fuel. Not only does it remove the harmful substance from the air, but also collects in a way so it can be stored, used or sold.
5. Plastic-Eating Microbe — Daniel Burd
Plastic that is simply dumped into landfills can take centuries to decompose, if it ever really does, but this young thinker came up with a better way. Burd beat out leading scientists to discovering a microbe that eats plastic, increasing the rate of decomposition by more than 40 percent. This project won him the Canada-Wide Science Fair and garnered a fair amount of international media attention as well.
6. Space Exploration Balloon — IES La Bisbal School
The students at this Spanish school produced a science fair project that was out of this world — literally. A team of four students sent a camera-operated weather balloon into the stratosphere, snagging atmospheric readings and stunning photographs more than 20 miles above Earth's surface.
7. Cancer And Chicken Marinades — Lauren Hodge
At just 14 years old, Lauren Hodge is getting a jumpstart on a science career with this amazing project, which won her an award at the international Google Science Fair competition. So what did she find? Some chicken marinades block carcinogenic compounds from forming when chicken is grilled — a process known to raise the level of carcinogens in meat. Among the marinades she tested, lemon juice was the most successful, so consider these stellar findings the next time you're hosting a backyard BBQ.
8. Image-Based Search Engine — David Liu
While most search engines work at dissecting the Web's textual information, David Liu's pet project is all about creating one that looks at images instead. While he is still working to perfect his software, Liu's search engine is already being used in the real world, analyzing satellite images and making relevant Web searches much more effective. An impressive feat for a 17-year-old.
9. Problems With Ovarian Cancer Treatment — Shree Bose
Taking top prize at the Google Science Fair, Bose will get to spend several weeks studying marine life in the Galapagos Islands. The work that netted her this prize is awe-inspiring, especially coming from a teenager. Bose uncovered a number of problems with popular ovarian cancer treatments and drugs, producing a report that would be more at home in a medical journal than a high school classroom. Hopefully, this will influence some changes in how treatment is doled out to suffering patients.
10. Computer Speed Enhancing Software — Kevin Ellis
Slow computers are the bane of every office worker's existence, but with the work of Kevin Ellis, an unresponsive machine may be a thing of the past. Rather than upgrading computers with more memory, Ellis has developed software that analyzes how programs are running and spreads out their needs over all the CPUs to make everything more quickly. His amazing software netted him $50,000 and the rest of the world a way to speed up computers that may have otherwise been tossed out.
11. Quantum Computing For Difficult Computational Problems — Yale Fan
Despite his name, this young genius chose Harvard over Yale to continue working on his education. Part of what got him there, undoubtedly, was this impressive bit of science. Yale's research project, titled "Adiabatic Quantum Algorithms for Boolean Satisfiability" analyzed the applications of quantum computing for solving some of the most complex and difficult computational problems. Most adults don't have half an idea what that even means, so it's all the more impressive that this teen was already studying it in high school.
12. Photodynamic Cancer Therapy — Amy Chyao
The definitive cure for cancer is still undoubtedly a long way off, but young researchers like Amy Chyao are certainly helping in the fight with innovative new ideas. Amy's science project used photodynamic therapy to target and kill cancer cells. The project was so promising, it garnered her the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair award in 2010.
13. Antarctic Submersible — Ryan Garner and Amanda Wilson
These two teens have come up with an amazing way to do research on climate change. With a budget of $5,000, the pair built an underwater rover designed to take on the challenges of some of the harshest conditions in the world — like those at the Antarctic Circle. Equipped with a camera, the device can explore and take measurements, and is currently being used by the University of California-Santa Barbara to study marine life.
14. Nuclear Weapon Detector — Taylor Wilson
16-year-old Taylor Wilson began his nuclear detection project at the age of only 11. Supported by his parents and a grant from Homeland Security, he eventually created a device that can reliably detect nuclear weapons and explosive materials as vehicles pass through his drive-through sensor.
15. Teaching Robots To Speak English — Luke Taylor
South African Luke Taylor submitted this amazing project to Google's Science Fair, which lets humans communicate more easily with robots. His software translates the English language into code that the robot can then understand and execute — allowing just about anyone, anywhere to program one to perform a variety of functions. Even more impressive? Taylor is just 13 years old.
16. Better Password Technology — Jacob Buckman
How many of your online passwords are truly secure? If you're like most people, probably not many. This young man may have come up with a solution, monitoring the biometrics of how people type to create a more secure way of gaining online account access. He discovered that passwords using the length of time between keystrokes and the length of time keys were held down could be just as accurate and potentially more secure than traditional passwords.
17. Asthma And Air Quality — Naomi Shah
Taking home top prize in her age group at the Google Science Fair, Shah's work takes a critical look at the air quality in the world today — and the impact it can have on those suffering from breathing disorders like asthma. She created a mathematical model that helps quantify the effects of air quality on symptoms. And had a few harsh words about the U.S. Clean Air Act as well, based on her findings.
18. Mind-controlled Prosthetic Limbs — Anand Srinivasan
It's hard to believe that this awe-inspiring science project came from the mind of a 14-year-old. Hooking his brain up to an EEG scanner, Srinivasan worked to test out a new method of improving mind-controlled prosthetic limbs. He found that data from the EEG could help with data classification and signal processing when using them, providing a better and more efficient user experience.
19. Managing The Power Of Household Devices — Ankush Gupta
You likely have a lot of vampires in your home, and not the sexy Hollywood kind either. These are energy vampires, and they're sucking up and wasting energy that you're paying for. Gupta has come up with a solution with this amazing science project using demotic technology. By monitoring energy use around the home, Gupta's system allows users to manage the power states of computers and other devices around the home to reduce energy usage and save money.
20. Spacecraft Navigation Software — Erika DeBenedictis
This bright, young rising star in the scientific community came up with some ingenious software for helping spacecraft move faster and use less fuel while navigating many obstacles in the vacuum of space. Her amazing software won a substantial award from the Intel Foundation, and more than likely will help ensure her a future career at NASA.
This article originally appeared on OnlineUniversities.com.