Google Science Fair 2013: Meet the 15 Amazing, World-Changing Finalists


Last week, Google announced the 15 global finalists for their annual Science Fair. International science superstars evaluate projects, organized into age groups of 13–14, 15–16, and 17–18, based on the typical summary, hypothesis, methods, results, conclusions, and sources/acknowledgement. In less than a month, each of these projects will be put to the test for a public vote to determine the winners.

The grand prize includes a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic Expeditions, $50,000 in scholarship funding, a personalized prize from LEGO, the chance to work with LEGO, CERN, or Google, and a free subscription to Scientific American for the winner's school. Other awards include separate age category winners, the Science in Action prize sponsored by Scientific American for the project that best addresses a world resource, the environmental or health challenge, and the Inspired Idea Prize, for the project that could best change the world.

Here's a quick look at this year's finalists:

1. Vinny Kumar, Australia (13 - 14)

"PART Program: Police and Ambulances Regulating Traffic"

Kumar noticed while in India that despite the availability of ambulances and emergency response vehicles, they would often get stuck in traffic because their sirens would not reach other drivers' ears quickly enough. The PART program is an Android phone for civilian cars. Emergency response vehicles update their location using GPS every two seconds or so; when they are within a range of 500 meters, they send signals to the phones alerting civilian drivers they need to pull over. It's a more efficient, quieter siren.

2. Alex Spiride, USA (13 - 14)

"SQUID-Jet: Bio-Inspired Propulsion System for Underwater Vehicles"

Taking a leaf out of squid's book, Spiride built a model for a motor system for submarines that models marine behavior, using material available around the house (like PCV pipe and a toilet plunger). It takes in water into a large bladder and then contracts quickly, much like a squid, to propel itself forward. The benefits to this project are that it can mimic marine life, meaning submarines could quickly and quietly approach deep-sea critters that habitually enjoyed being alone, and that it could get away quickly like squid, at up to 40 km/hr.

3. Kavita Selva, USA (13 - 14)

"Superconductor Tapes: A Solution to the Rare Earth Shortage Crisis"

Rare-earth metals, which are used to make magnets, cell phones, and all sorts of other technologies, are in a massive shortage; about 97% of these metals are found in China, but they've recently restricted their exports. Selva decided to invent a superconductor tape to make permanent magnets for motors in electric cars and wind turbines that use very little metal. She paired up with the labs at the University of Texas, Houston for access to certain metals and liquid nitrogen to keep the superconductor cool, and concluded that she can achieve the same effects of a larger, superconductor "puck" that uses more rare-earth metals by using many layers of her own superconductor tape.

4. Venkat Sankir, USA (13-14)

"Ecology or Economy: Managing the Impact of Infrastructure Projects on Endangered Species"

Sankir noticed that more often than not, infrastructure designed to improve human life adversely affects wildlife. He created a simulation-based approached for managing the impact of different buildings on already-endangered species. He used the Panoche Valley Solar Farm project in California that currently monitors giant kangaroo population rates as his model. Sankir created simulations of altering projects to make them have less of an impact on certain species, too, so these projects could be improved. 

5. Lisa Sosnova and Tina Kabir, Russia (13 - 14)

"Universal Hydrostatic Densimeter"

This project was submitted entirely in Russian, but these ladies still managed to communicate their proposal well. They devised an easy-to-use device used to measure body mass, or the density of people, as well as everyday objects. This project could have huge implications for diagnosing different medical problems, and best of all is made by simple, household objects. My Russian is a little rusty, but the judges found this project very impressive, so I have to believe it is too.

6. Valarie Ding, USA (15 - 16)

"Rapid Quantum Dot Solar Cell Optimization: Integrating Quantum Mechanical Modeling and Novel Solar Absorption Algorithm"

The objective of this project is fairly straight forward; Ding decided to make more efficient solar cells. Photovoltaic cells convert the sun's energy into electricity, but they don't capture too much at present. Ding used cloud computing and Python programming to create algorithms for cells. She found that the size and shape of these quantum dot solar cells drastically affects their efficiency. 

7. Elif Bilgin, Turkey (15 - 16)

"Going Bananas! Using Banana Peels in the Production of Bio-Plastic as a Replacement of the Traditional Petroleum Based Plastic"

Bilgin noticed that banana peels are everywhere, and may have more of a use than tripping cheesy villains. Banana peels are full of starch, which is a key material used in bio-plastic. Ironically, she used Google to find ways of synthesizing bio-plastic at home. Though several of her trials didn’t work at all (and one began to smell profusely after three days), she finally figured out that by soaking the peels in a sodium solution would do the trick. 

8. Ann Makosinski, Canada (15 - 16)

"The Hollow Flashlight"

Makosinski was tired of using all those AA batteries on flashlights, so decided to build one that runs on power generated naturally – you! She created a flashlight that takes the thermal energy our hands generate and converts it into electrical energy used to run a flashlight that produces 5.4 mW of energy at 5 foot candles of brightness. 

9. Shrishti Asthana, India (15 - 16)

"Solar Light Assisted nanoZnO Photo Catalyic Mineralization – The Green Technique for the Degradation of Detergents"

Though we may think of washing machines as clean, most detergent creates waste water that harms local environments in both urban and rural areas. Asthana created a solution of tiny zinc oxide that — paired with solar energy — successfully treats detergent waste water to make it safe once again. Her method is fast, cost-efficient, and requires shorter time than the leading water treatments.

10. Samantha Kwok, Yi Xi Kang, and Tricia Lim, Singapore (15 - 16)

"Efficacy of Estrogens and Progesterone in Hepatic Fibrosuppression"

Female sex hormones tend to have preventative effects for liver scarring called hepatic fibrosis. However, the effect of taking extra hormones has other, undesired effects on the body. These women experimented on rat liver cells to try to find the lowest effective dosage of female sex hormones capable of preventing liver scarring without other side effects in other parts of the body.

11. Elizabeth Zhao, USA (17 - 18)

"A Novel Implementation of Image Processing and Machine Learning for Early Diagnosis of Melanoma"

Zhao looked at some of the procedures used by dermatologists to diagnose melanoma, a deadly skin cancer, that is treatable when identified early. She created an effective computer program that could take an image of a patient's skin lesion and predict with 80% accuracy whether or not a particular spot is cancerous. 

12. Eric Chen, USA (17 - 18)

"Computer-Aided Discovery of Novel Influenza Endonuclease Inhibitors to Combat Flu Pandemic"

After the H7N9 scare this year, Chen decided to look into ways of modeling the genetic makeup of the flu virus to find common parts of the viral DNA that could be targeted by general anti-flu medicine, rather than specific vaccines for each new strain. Though this project is only the ground work for future developments, the novel approach found several novel, potent inhibitors that may work to stop the flu from reproducing.

13. Vinay Iyengar, USA (17 - 18)

"Efficient Characteristic 3 Galios Field Operations for Elliptic Curve Cryptographic Applications"

I'm no math buff, but Iyengar found a way to improve standard procedures for encryption algorithms. He developed a method of arithmetic that was entire orders of magnitude faster than previous elliptic curve cryptography. This particular type of cryptography is often used in the Galois fields of characteristic 3.

14. Esha Maiti, USA (17 - 18)

"Stochastic Monte Carlo Simulations to Determine Breast Cancer Metastasis Rates from Patient Survival Data"

Cancer is most deadly when it spreads to other parts of the body, or metastasizes. Unfortunately, these tumors in other parts of the body cannot be detected until they have already reached a size of 10–15 millimeters, and even by that time treatment may be too late to be effective. Maiti created a Monte Carlo simulation computer code that predicts the rate of metastazation of a given tumor based on its size and shape.

15. Charalampos Ioannou, Greece (17 - 18)

"An Exoskeleton Glove Which Enhances and Supports the Movement of the Human Palm"

Ioannou developed a metallic, lightweight glove that takes measurements from different sensors on the palm to help increase finger dexterity and strength. He designed this glove with the intention of helping those either congenital or acquired disabilities, and could be expanded to help other parts of the body. His work has taken 2.5 years so far, and runs on a computer algorithm.