Science

Google Science Fair winners: Flashlights without batteries, ‘bat signals,’ non-viral viruses

Image Credit: Google

Google Science Fair is clearly where minor miracles happen. Flashlights that work without batteries, traffic that moves itself out of the way of an oncoming emergency vehicle, and new flu medicines — designed on a computer — that are effective even against pandemic strains.

And all, of course, from teenagers.

Google announced the winners of its 2013 science fair today, and three teens from Australia, Canada, and the USA have emerged from the 18 finalists that Google invited to Mountain View, and won their age categories.

Bat signal for ambulances

ambulanceIn the 13-14 age category, Aussie teen Viney Kumar designed a system that allows ambulances and other emergency vehicles to send out a GPS-informed “bat signal” to cars within 500 meters (a third of a mile) notifying them via cellular connection that an ambulance or fire truck is coming, and requesting that they pull over.

Kumar designed the system, he said, when he saw an ambulance stuck in traffic in India, unable to move, and wondered how many people were dying for lack of prompt emergency response.

Flashlight without batteries

Canadian teen Ann Makosinski won the 15-16 year-old category with a novel flashlight idea that requires no battery. The “Hollow Flashlight” runs solely on the heat of your hand, Makosinski’s flashlight uses Peltier tiles that capture energy from the flow of heat to cooler areas, such as the surrounding air. Incredibly efficient, the light can produce up to 5.4 mW and generate a light that is five foot-candles in brightness.

Since a foot-candle is basically the brightness of a lit candle at one foot distance (shocker), her battery-less device is producing more light than five candles — impressive.

The no-viral flu virus

Model of an HIV virus

Above: Model of an HIV virus

Image Credit: Tim Evanson

Eric Chen of the USA was both the 17-18 category winner and the grand prize winner for an extremely ambitious project with the goal of stopping the flu virus before it goes viral. Chen realized that the influenza endonuclease, or enzymes, are essential for viral growth. To stop the flu, therefore, scientists need only stop its reproduction, killing the infection by not allowing it to spread.

To find the best way of doing so, Chen set up computational models and computer-aided designs of flu viruses and the¬†endonuclease components, and “virtually screened” potential medications that could molecularly bind to the enzymes, rendering them inert, and killing the flu dead.

It sound like science fiction, or at least something the Center for Disease Control is doing in some billion-dollar lab in Atlanta, but this teen pulled it off, finding “a number of novel, potent endonuclease inhibitors,” and laying the groundwork for further study and optimization.

This teen isn’t just smart at science — Chen has filed a patent on this discovery.

The winners all received prizes from Google and CERN, Lego, National Geographic, and Scientific American. The grand prize winner, Chen, will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the Galapagos Islands, and $50,000 in scholarships.

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