Google’s 2012 Science Fair is well underway today, with 15 finalist teams being brought to the search giant’s campus in Mountain View, Calif., for the summer experience of their lives.
Fifteen teams, with members ranging between 13 and 19 years old, have been transported from their hometowns across the globe to present their projects to a panel of judges. The winners will receive $100,000 in scholarship funds and a trip to the Galapagos Islands, among other prizes.
You’ve got to see what these kids are up to; their projects aren’t just the dinky volcanoes and beaver habitats you’d expect to find in your average science fair.
Yamini Naidu, a 17-year-old girl living in the Pacific Northwest, is using her chemistry expertise to find better ways to treat methamphetamine addiction. Sabera Talukder, a 16-year-old girl who lives near Google’s campus, is creating a cheap and portable water purification system for use in the developing world.
Elsewhere around the globe, Raghavendra Ramachanderan, who is 17 and living in Bangalore, has figured out a way to make fuel reusable. And Sumit Singh, 14, who lives in Locknow, India, devised a new, practical, and cheap farming method, what he calls a “vertical multi-level farm” for small farmers. A two-person team (both members are under 15 years old) is taking a look at air pollution from vehicle exhaust gases in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, where they live.
Definitely check out the videos each team submitted to the competition.
Once of the fair’s illustrious judges, Internet godfather Vint Cerf, said, “I just am a huge cheerleader for getting kids interested in science and technology… It’s important that the adults appreciate that young people are capable of doing really astounding work.”
One project has already been awarded the Scientific American Science in Action award. This award, the first of its kind, is given to the project “that addresses a social, environmental or health issue to make a practical difference in the lives of a group or community.” This year’s winners are Swaziland’s Sakhiwe Shongwe of Siteki and Bonkhe Mahlalela of Simunye, both 14.
Their ambitious, ingenious project addresses one of their region’s biggest problems: a constant and ongoing food shortage. Relying on imports and foreign aid has become the norm, but these teens say such aid might not be necessary.
“If we can empower Swazi subsistence farmers with such knowledge of simplified hydroponics, producing organic crops, one challenge, i.e. food shortage in the country, could be significantly reduced,” said Shongwe. “Apart from each family having enough food, surplus crops could be sold to local markets reducing the high food price which are mainly a result of transportation cost of vegetables from South Africa. In addition, the project has positive environmental impacts as it promotes the use of Three R’s [reduce, reuse, recycle] and eliminates soil tilling which results in soil erosion.”
The Science in Action award brings with it special prizes, including $50,000 in prize money and a year of mentorship from field experts.
This is the first year the fair has accepted projects submitted in languages other than English, and the impact on international participation has been significant.
“I’m a huge enthusiast because it’s global,” Cerf said. “It’s an opportunity to show young people what science is all about and show the rest of the world that young people have interesting, fresh, creative ideas… and how capable our young people are in doing this sort of thing.”
One finalist will be selected in each age group (13-14, 15-16, 17-18), and the judges will also name one grand prize winner. Winners will be announced at the fair’s gala event July 23, 2012.