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The 2013 Science in Action Finalists

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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The winning project in 2012 was the Unique Simplified Hydroponic Method, developed by two 14-year-old boys, Bonkhe Mahlalela (left) and Sakhiwe Shonwe of Swaziland. Credit: Mariette DiChristina

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.

Project: Can Heat and Tomatoes Produce Electricity

Name (Age): Himanshi Sehgal (14), Souparni Roy (14), Richa Nagda (14)

Country: Kenya

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)

Country: India

Summary: Different types of fiber—jute, straw, hair, cotton—and glue improve the strength of mud bricks commonly used in rural areas of India.

Project: Simultaneous Biopesticide Wastewater Treatment and Bioelectricity Generation in Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC)

Name (Age): S.M. Sambavi (13)

Country: India

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.

Project: The “BLIDEF” Language: A Complete Guide to a Global Standard Deaf and Blind English Alphabet

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.

Project: Yield Study of Sepiolite in Arid Cultivation

Name (Age): Emma Lorenzo Casas (14), Sofía Antonia Justo Villar (15)

Country: Spain

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)

Country: Canada

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.

Project Name: The Impact of Electric Current on Plants as a Way to Improve Yield Productivity

Name (Age): Evgeniy Pavelko (16)

Country: Belarus

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.

Project: Identification of Organisms in Coastal Phytoplankton Bioindicators in Paraná through Analysis of Correlative Biotic and

Name (Age): Nayara Martins Orsi (17), Flavia Faggião (16)

Country: Brazil

Summary: Plankton sampled from a variety of locations along the Brazilian cost helps determine the health and diversity of life in marine ecosystems.

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

Name (Age): Elif Bilgin (16)

Country: Turkey

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)

Country: India

Summary: A series of capsules containing piezoelectric materials embedded in a roadway could convert the force of traveling vehicles into electrical energy.

Project: Enhancing Desalination Efficiency of Cellulose Acetate Membranes Using Modern Optimizations

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.

Project: “Hanging Gardens,” Or an Effective Way to Remove Pollutants from Air

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.

Project: Farmers’ Help (Farmers’ True Friend, Indeed)

Name (Age): Smriti Bhaskar (17), Arunatpal Chanda (15), Sayak Mukherjee (16)

Country: India

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)

Country: Poland

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)

Country: Australia

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.



Mariette DiChristina About the Author: Editor in Chief, Mariette DiChristina, oversees Scientific American,, Scientific American MIND and all newsstand special editions. Follow on Twitter @mdichristina.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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