Google Science Fair 2014 Finalists Announced

August 6, 2014 | by Lisa Winter

Photo credit: Google Science Fair

Google has announce the 15 finalists for the 2014 Google Science Fair. If you’re not familiar with the program, it is an online science fair for students aged 13-18 around the globe. This isn’t just a bunch of kids making baking soda volcanos or dropping Mentos into Diet Coke: these young scientists are doing real research that can actually improve the world around them. 

In addition to the prestige of winning such a competitive international science fair, the grand prize winner will receive a $50,000 scholarship, spend 10 days in the Galapagos Islands from National Geographic Expeditions, a behind-the-scenes tour of Virgin Galactic Spaceport, a prize pack from LEGO, and one of three experiences offered by LEGO, NatGeo, and Google. The winner’s school will receive $10,000 for computers or lab equipment as well as one year access to Scientific American.

Even if a project doesn’t take the grand prize, there are other awards available as well.

The winner of each age group will receive a $25,000 scholarship, a prize pack from LEGO, and one of three once-in-a-lifetime experiences offered by LEGO, NatGeo, and Google. Additionally, their school will receive one year of access to Scientific American.

The Scientific American Science in Action Award is awarded to project offering a solution to an environmental, resource, or health problem. The winner will receive $50,000 in funding and mentoring for a year to bring their ideas to life.

The Google Science Fair Computer Science Award is given to someone demonstrating innovation in computer science. The winner receives $25,000 in funding and mentoring for a year.

The Local Award is given to someone who develops a project to fix a problem within their community. Winners receive $1,000 in funding.

The Voter’s Choice Award is given by the public, based on the results of online voting. The winner will receive $10,000 in funding.Polling for the Voter’s Choice Award will begin on September 1. Before voting begins, take some time and read about the incredible work being done by these amazing teenagers:

13-14 Age Category

In an effort to abate the ever-increasing amount of cyber-bullying among adolescents, Trisha developed a “Rethink” program that would alert a user if an outgoing message contains language that is potentially abusive and hurtful. Her project was inspired by research that has shown that the region of the brain that influences decision making is not fully developed until age 25. Her preliminary studies showed that adolescents who tried the “Rethink” system were 93% less likely to send abusive messages than those who were not warned about the consequences of their actions. 

Fruit flies are able to evade getting swatted because of the ability to maneuver like a fighter jet. Mihir believed that replicating the visual system of the flies would allow drones to navigate obstacles more nimbly. This ability to evade potential threats could expand the use of drones in search and rescue missions, potentially saving numerous lives. He developed a lightweight sensor reminiscent of the fruit fly visual system that proved to be effective in avoiding obstacles.

This project was a Computer science award nominee.

Galaxy clusters can bend and amplify light around them, which can magnify more distant objects like galaxies or quasars. This process is known as gravitational lensing and studying quasars in this manner can provide information about dark energy and dark matter. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) released data for over 300,000 quasars, which made a tall order of identifying which ones had been gravitationally lensed. Pranav developed an algorithm that would examine the quasar’s morphology to identify lensed quasars, expediting research.

Biology students often have to share microscopes, due to a lack of resources. This leads to a lot of down time while they learn to adjust the visual settings between users. Using LEGO Technik and Mindstorm EV3 kits, Mark was able to develop a microscope that can be controlled via remote in order to sharpen the image and transmit it via Bluetooth on the Android platform. What’s more, the images obtained from the microscope can be connected through Google Hangouts for use in schools or classes that do not have access to microscopes.

Chlorella vulgaris is a type of algae that is used for developing biofuel. Conventional lipid extraction of the algae involves multiple steps, which adds to the cost of the product and can result in lower yields. Studies have shown to to increase lipids in the cells naturally by consuming nitrogen. Gregory improved upon this technique by developing a method that did not involve transferring the algae for nitrogen depletion, which resulted in higher yields.

15-16 Age Category

Over 1 percent of the world suffers from disabilities that inhibit their ability of speech due to paralysis, including people like Stephen Hawking who suffer from ALS. There are Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices (AAC) available to help them communicate, but each unit can cost thousands of dollars and have certain drawbacks. Arsh developed a system that allows the user to exhale through the nose as Morse Code. It is able to speak and give commands in English using one of 9 different voices.

This project was a Scientific American science in action prize nominee and Computer science award nominee.

An estimated 65 percent of the the 5.2 million Americans with Alzheimer’s wander, which can lead to injury or death. Kenneth became acutely aware of this problem while caring for his grandfather. In order to keep these people safe, Kenneth developed a device that would sense when the wanderer stood up and put pressure on their foot. The device can send an alert to the caregiver’s smartphone via Bluetooth. After six months of use, the device caught all instances of his grandfather getting out of bed at night without any false positives.

This project was the Scientific American Science in Action Award winner.

In an effort to decrease the amount of air pollution, some buildings have implemented Titanium Dioxide facades, which can be very expensive and aren’t incredibly efficient. Samuel was able to improve upon the technology by adding graphene, which suppressed the Titanium Dioxide’s electron-hole recombination. Graphene can’t be added to paint because it isn’t water soluble, so Samuel used Graphene Oxide, which reduced down to graphene after application after exposure to light.

This project was a Local prize winner.

While receiving medical treatment, many people are attached to respiratory monitors which involves several wires. This can be especially intrusive for patients including the elderly, infants, burn victims, and those undergoing sleep study. Eswar developed a heterodyning oscillator which can effectively monitor respiration without any direct contact with the patient. While traditional monitoring units can cost thousands of dollars, Eswar’s system runs about $50.

Due to an increased global population and crop damage from pollution and climate change, we are heading for a potential food crisis. The girls found that Diazotroph bacteria contribute to the germination of cereal crops including barley and oats. They noted that the bacteria contributed to 50 percent shorter germination times at variable temperatures and crop yield increased by 30-70 percent.

17-18 Age Category

Over 780 million people around the globe lack access to clean water and 1.2 billion do not have electricity. Cynthia developed a way to kill two birds with one stone by creating H2PRO, which simultaneously purifies water and generates electricity using only sunlight. Photocatalytic reactions decomposed 90 percent of organic pollutants in only two hours, though modifications need to be made to increase electricity production.

This project was a Scientific American science in action prize nominee.

Slow sand filters purify tainted surface water into something clean and drinkable. Hayley sought to apply the process to tailings ponds created to hold the toxic byproducts from processing oil sands. These tailing ponds are rife with Naphthenic acid, which pose an incredible risk since they aren’t readily biodegradable. Hayley’s slow sand filter setup was able to reduce Naphthenic acids by over 90%. This could purify all oil sand tailing ponds in the world in about 20 years; 14 times faster than the purification technique currently in use.

This project was a Local prize winner.

Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) gets its name because the cancer lacks receptors for estrogen, progesterone, and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. Because TNBC can’t be targeted with hormone treatment, it is especially aggressive with few noninvasive treatment options. Daniela and Sadhika developed a mathematical model using existing imaging techniques to predict how a patient will respond to treatment. This could cut down on unnecessary surgery and biopsies.

This project was a Computer science award nominee.

Most people rely on alarm clocks with loud sounds to help get them out of bed in the morning. However, alternative solutions are needed for those with hearing imparments. Guillaume devised an alarm clock that utilizes the sense of smell in order to wake people up. At the designated alarm time, a fan pulls in ambient air in the room and directs the air stream toward the sleeping person, rousing them with the scent of peppermint. Guillaume’s testing showed that it takes 30-120 seconds to wake someone up with this method.

Sometimes things are accomplished in the lab, but are never taken to the next step. When Anastasia’s teacher demonstrated how to spray water with ultrasound waves, she began to wonder why this hadn’t been adapted into popular use and so many machines still relied on less efficient pneumatic or hydraulic injectors. She developed an efficient gas nozzle using ultrasonic injectors which could be used considerably longer than traditional nozzles, saving considerable time, money, and energy.

This project was a Scientific American science in action prize nominee.

[All images via Google Science Fair]