Canada, India, Malta, Spain, Swaziland, the Ukraine, and the U.S.: the 15 finalists in the annual Google Science Fair, selected from 15 000 entries, held this week at Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters truly represented the world. And their projects were just as diverse—improving the experience of listening to music for the blind, creating a solar array that uses the cells itself to find its best position, making a 3D display that is really three-dimensional, not an optical illusion, and capturing the energy of raindrops (the 14-year-old inventor was interviewed for our podcast series earlier this month).
The winner in the 17-18 age group was Brittany Wenger from Lakewood Ranch, Florida. She took home the grand prize of US $50 000 in scholarships, a 10-day trip to the Galapagos, and an internship for her project, a “Global Neural Network Cloud Service for breast Cancer.” Jonah Kohn from San Diego, Calif., won in the 13-14 age group for a designing a device to better allow deaf people to feel music, and a group from Logrono, Spain—Ivan Hervias Rodriguez, Marcos Ochoa, and Sergio Pascual won in the 15-16 age group for their documentation of microscopic life in fresh water.
In pictures, below, a sampling of the people and the projects.
Sakhiwe Shongwe, and his partner Bonkhe Mahlalela, from Siteki, Swaziland, demonstrated the efficiency of a hydroponic farming system.
Melvin Zammit from Malta built a 3-D display out of spinning LEDs. Although an early prototype literally exploded, he came to the fair with several successful models. Zammit said this devices will work particularly well in displaying CT scans, for CT scans record images in slices, and the spinning LEDs trace the image as slices, so it's a one-to-one correlation.
Rohit Fenn from Bangalore, India, demonstrated a modified vacuum toilet, intended to be affordable and simple for use in developing countries.
Jonah Kohn, San Diego, the winner in the 13-14 age group, wrote software that splits music into six frequency groups then sends it to a group of vibrators that can be worn on different fingers or different parts of the body. He says this makes experiencing music better for deaf people; a single frequency stream muddies the effect.
Yassine Bouanane, from Lavel, Canada, uses the amount of current coming in from an array of solar panels to determine, in real time, the optimal position of the panels towards the sun; handy if you're using those panels on a moving platform, like a boat. He said that writing the software was easy for him, but welding metal for his prototypes was tricky.
Milena Limenko and Alexey Kozlov from Kiev, the Ukraine, tested carbon dioxide around their city, using a C02 sensor and a smart phone; they discovered to their surprise that some suburban areas had more air pollution than areas alongside major highways.
Martin Schneider and Joshua Li from Dresher and Ambler, Penn., created Bob, a virtual opponent, to motivate students playing educational video games.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.