Now in its second year, the $50,000 Science in Action award, sponsored by Scientific American as part of the Google Science Fair, an annual global competition for teens ages 13 to 18, honors a project that can make a practical difference by addressing an environmental, health or resources challenge. Submissions should be innovative, easy to put into action and reproducible in other communities. In addition to the prize, Scientific American will fly the Science in Action winner(s) to the finalist awards event at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., in September 2013, and will establish mentoring for a year. Last year’s winners, Bonkhe Mahlalela and Sakhiwe Shongwe of Swaziland, created a Unique Simplified Hydroponics Method.
This year’s 15 finalists include projects from 12 countries—with four entries from India. The entrants range in age from 13 to 18 and explored such worthy topics as ways to create alternative energy, to improve building materials with bio-plastics and natural items, and to purify water. Below you can find short summaries and links to their entries. Congratulations to the Science in Action finalists! Now let the judging begin: we Science in Action judges have a challenging job ahead of us. The winning project will be announced June 27.
Name (Age): Himanshi Sehgal (14), Souparni Roy (14), Richa Nagda (14)
Summary: Sunlight reflected in a mirror and then focused through a lens heats tomato juice in a copper container. This creates steam that drives rotors to produce electricity.
Project: Natural Strengthening of Mud Bricks
Name (Age): Tannishtha Das (13)
Summary: Different types of fiber—jute, straw, hair, cotton—and glue improve the strength of mud bricks commonly used in rural areas of India.
Name (Age): S.M. Sambavi (13)
Summary: Microbial fuel cell uses biopesticide wastewater as a substrate and mangrove sediment as the inoculum providing microbes to convert chemical energy to electrical energy.
Name: Rozan El-Qishawi (13)
Country: United States
Summary: Using only one hand, a series of taps and finger positions can create the letters of an alphabet intended to enable blind people to communicate directly with deaf people without an interpreter.
Name (Age): Emma Lorenzo Casas (14), Sofía Antonia Justo Villar (15)
Summary: Adding sepiolite, a clay mineral found in many brands of cat litter, to soil that’s been subject to forest fire helps it retain water and nutrients, improving performance
Project: The Hollow Flashlight
Name (Age): Ann Makosinski (16)
Summary: Using the thermoelectric effect, Peltier tiles convert the heat of the human hand to electricity to power a flashlight without batteries or kinetic energy.
Name (Age): Evgeniy Pavelko (16)
Summary: In an effort to improve plant productivity, a weak current was applied to seeds of such plants as beans to test whether it improves the rate of germination, growth rate and plant quality.
Name (Age): Nayara Martins Orsi (17), Flavia Faggião (16)
Summary: Plankton sampled from a variety of locations along the Brazilian cost helps determine the health and diversity of life in marine ecosystems.
Name (Age): Elif Bilgin (16)
Summary: With the addition of a few chemicals, banana peels can be made into a bio-plastic suitable for such applications as cosmetic prostheses or the electrical insulation of cables
Project: Electricity From Traffic
Name (Age): Sagnik Chakraborty (17)
Summary: A series of capsules containing piezoelectric materials embedded in a roadway could convert the force of traveling vehicles into electrical energy.
Name (Age): Motasim Zawawi (18)
Country: Saudi Arabia
Summary: Thermal treatment and stirring, two modern optimization techniques, were applied to cellulose acetate membranes to test their performance in desalinating seawater.
Name (Age): Bekjan Djumakov (15), Bulat Karimov (17)
Country: Russian Federation
Summary: Layers of plants, growing medium, fabric, along with an automatic irrigation system, create air-cleaning, aesthetically pleasing roof gardens.
Name (Age): Smriti Bhaskar (17), Arunatpal Chanda (15), Sayak Mukherjee (16)
Summary: Software analyzes such factors as soil’s nutrient capacity and microbial health to provide farmers with information about how to maximize yields.
Project: What Lurks in Our Refrigerators?
Name (Age): Kamil Danak (17), Marcin Muszalski (17), Wojciech Grędel (17)
Summary: Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags on various food items combined with a microcontroller and software can monitor food consumption and waste.
Project: Save the Skin You’re In
Name (Age): Ethan Butson (17)
Summary: To avoid both skin cancers and vitamin D deficiencies, the UV-optimizing “Opti-D Package” measures UV exposure with a dosimeter combined with an exposure-time calculator in a smart-phone app.