On Monday, 15 teenagers, whose projects were selected from 7500 entries from 91 countries, collected in a small room at Google's Mountain View headquarters. These, the finalists in Google's international science fair, presented their projects to judges, journalists, families of other entrants, and crowds of summer campers on tour. They uniformly spoke confidently, rapidly, and switched easily between presentations with technical depth and those that translated clearly for a lay listener, depending on who their audience was at the moment.
At the end of the day, the competition crowned winners. But it was clear to me, talking to these engineers and scientists of the future, that our world is going to be the ultimate winner here. (The grand prize winner of US $50 000, a trip to the Galapagos, and an internship at CERN was Shree Bose, who discovered a way to improve ovarian cancer treatment. More on the winners here.) Because when these teens read the news, watch movies, or talk to their friends, they find problems to be solved—and believe they can solve them. And, after talking to them, I believe they and their peers around the world can—not just the problems of today but also the problems of tomorrow.
"We forget how much young people can do," said Vint Cerf, Google's Chief Internet Evangelist and widely known as one of the founders of the Internet, as he stood in the middle of the room and looked around at the teenagers. "But in the 18th century, the best mathematics was done by teens." And these teens, he noted, "are concerned with real world social and environmental problems. They care about the world."
Find out about some of the finalists, the problems they solved, and their sources of inspiration in our slideshow.
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.