On May 21, the 13 finalists of the $50,000 Scientific American Science in Action award, powered by the Google Science Fair, were announced. In this blog series, we shed light on the students behind the projects. Meet Sabera Tulukder and Sakhiwe Shongwe. On June 6, the winner of the Science in Action award will be announced.

Sabera Tulukder, a 15 year-old from Los Gatos, Calif., U.S.

Project: Pani Purification

How does your project impact the community you grew up in?
I grew up in the Bay Area but through my father I have a close emotional tie with the less fortunate in his home country of Bangladesh. He has maintained a desire to follow his mother`s example of helping the less fortunate, especially the women and children. I went to Bangladesh for the first time over the summer and it was such an eye opening experience. My aunt Rana moved back there after living abroad for sometime, so we finally had a home base in Dhaka. My aunt went to great lengths to see that we had boiled water and that our dishes were washed with boiled water (an extremely painstaking process).

The people there are so much less fortunate than my family was, and most of us in the U.S are. When I was collecting water samples from different neighborhoods and villages in Bangladesh, parents came up to me and asked me if I would come with them to their sources of water to take samples. These parents were so anxious to participate. I met children whose families live on the street and are struggling to earn enough to be able to rent a room. The street families have enrolled the pre-school age children in a program run by a NGO which provides much support.

Among other things they are provided with access to water, a place to cook and education for the children so that the parents can work. If I could help to make their water cleaner it would be wonderful.

What does being recognized as a Science in Action Award finalist mean to you?
I am so proud that my project is getting this recognition. I had a bit of doubt at one point because my project was not looked at by others as hard core science. Fitting this project into the traditional science fair categories was difficult. My project is rich in field data, involves engineering because of the design of the apparatus yet at the same time involves biology and chemistry. I feel that I can break the apparatus itself up into four sub-projects that should be further developed and refined. However the people in Bangladesh need a source of clean water NOW, so I will hopefully be going back to Bangladesh this summer to implement the Pani Purification System. When I can see a child go up to the Pani Purification system and get clean water that will be my true reward and my true gift.

If you could have dinner with any three scientists throughout time, whom would you choose?

Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin and as a result antibiotics which still is saving lives. I think it s so amazing that scientists can change the course of lives through their work. Sir Alexander Fleming certainly did that and I would love to one day have an achievement as noble as his.

Gerty Cori because she grew up in a time period when it was looked down upon for women to pursue roles in science. We also studied the Cori cycle, when glycogen is broken down into lactic acid, briefly in my freshman honors bio class. She was also the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Charles Darwin because he did not conform to the current beliefs of evolution, or lack there of during his life. His ability to believe in himself despite others around him, is something that I truly admire.

What is your favorite color?

My favorite color would have to be aquamarine, because I started swimming at such a young age and the color gives me feelings of nostalgia.

Sakhiwe Shongwe, a 14 year-old from Swaziland

Project: Hydroponic Method for Subsistence Farmers

How does your project impact the community you grew up in?

I believe that Swaziland neither needs the tons of food aid coming from western and eastern countries, nor complex strategies which the country cannot afford to solve low food productivity. Educating subsistence farmers is the key, and our experimental project has proven to be one of the best approaches. If we can empower Swazi subsistence farmers with such knowledge of simplified hydroponics, producing organic crops, one challenge i.e. food shortage in the country could be significantly reduced. Apart from each family having enough food, surplus crops could be sold to local markets reducing the high food price which are mainly a result of the transportation cost of vegetables from South Africa. In addition, the project has positive environmental Impacts as it promotes the use of Three R s and eliminates soil tilling which results in soil erosion.

If you could have dinner with any three scientists throughout time, whom would you choose?

Vint Cerf, the father of internet. Not sure why he is called the father of internet but I m very much interested in how the internet works. How is it all this possible? Can Vint Cerf share his knowledge with me, just for one dinner? And just look at communication in today s world. Although I have very limited time to spend in the school s computer laboratory each day, i.e. less than 40 minutes, this time is the most special one each and every day.

What do you think was the most revolutionary invention of the past 100 years and why? The past 10 years?

  1. I ll focus on the past 10 years; I think it is the ARVs because they save lives. One major challenge of Swaziland today is HIV/AIDS. Swaziland has over 100 000 orphans (+/-8.3%) of the country s population) due to HIV/AIDS death in just 10 years, this makes me think of ARV s for Swaziland is the most revolutionary invention.
  2. However I see every invention revolving around the introduction of computers, internet and software. Without these all other inventions could take much more time and effort to invent.