PALO ALTO, CALIF. – Eighteen impressive teenagers from around the world are gathered in Mountain View, California awaiting the results of the annual Google Science Fair. The finalists, from 8 countries including the United States, Singapore, Turkey, Greece and India, have collectively invented a flashlight that uses body heat for energy, a novel prosthetic hand, plastic made from discarded banana peels, and a prototype submarine that moves like a squid. Below are a few of the projects I saw at today's expo at Google headquarters in Mountain View. For the full list of projects and finalists visit the Google Science Fair Web site. And click here to watch livestream coverage of tonight’s awards gala, beginning at 7 pm Pacific time. Google and its partners, which include Scientific American, Lego, National Geographic and CERN, will announce winners in three age categories plus an overall grand prize winner, who will receive $50,000, a trip to the Galapagos Islands, and a choice of internships, among other prizes.
Charalampos Ioannou, 18. Athens, Greece.
Movement Enhancing Glove. After watching his grandmother struggle to grasp everyday objects like the remote control, Ioannou developed this metallic glove that uses pressure sensors and motors to detect and amplify movements of the human hand. “It makes even a very light touch more powerful,” he says. He hopes to help people who suffer from conditions like arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.
Kavita Selva, 13. Houston, Texas.
A New Kind of Magnet. After reading a story in National Geographic about the global shortage of rare earths – metals and elements used in magnets – Selva developed a magnet using semiconductor tape, which contains almost no rare earths and has already published some of her results with a professor at the University of Houston. Selva says science fairs offer a chance for kids to make discoveries independently, outside of school. “I know a lot of people think they are all nerdy, but it’s something fun that you can do on your own and find out something new.”
Ann Makosinski, 15. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
A Battery-Free Flashlight. Inspired by a friend from the Philippines who was unable to do homework because of power shortages, Makosinski developed a flashlight that runs on body heat. She used Peltier tiles, which she discovered after doing an Internet search for alternative energy sources. Peltier tiles produce energy when one side is heated and the other side is cooled. “The palm touches one side of the Peltier tiles connected in series, while the other side of the tile is cooled by contact with the aluminum tube subjected to convection cooling,” she wrote in her proposal.
Elif Bilgin, 16. Istanbul, Turkey.
Winner: Scientific American Science in Action Award; Voter’s Choice Award, Google Science Fair
Creating Bioplastics from Banana Peel. Disturbed by the large amount of plastic polluting waterways, Bilgin developed a simple method of creating a bioplastic from the starch in banana peels. “More than 200 tons of banana peel is thrown away daily in Thailand,” she writes. Her soft plastic can be put to many uses including insulating cables, she says.