Tech Whizkids get their Launchpad at Google Science Fair

Author – Goutham V

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There was a time schools students went to science fairs and technology exhibitions to display models of wind mills and volcanoes and got science books as prizes. Many times a talented whizkid may have been sidelined by biased teachers in those days, but today, whizkids can submit their ideas to online tech startup competitions and science fairs and get million dollar funding for their new innovations!

Among these, Google Science Fair is the foremost science & technology competition organized every year exclusively for school students across the world. Being the most awaited competition among science geeks, we can witness some of the most innovative ideas emerging from children of the age group of 13-18 from all over the world. This competition was launched by Google in 2011 in partnership with LEGO Education, National Geographic Society, Scientific American and Virgin Galactic to promote new innovations created by teenagers around the world.

Google Science Fair is an online science competition where in students from around the globe (either as an individual or as a team) can login online to submit their project, which should contain a summary of the idea and the personal profile, apart from the project data.
This year’s registrations are just closed and the finalists are yet to be announced. Around 100 projects are finalized from every region and 6 prizes are given to regional winners.

Entries are judged on eight core criteria, which include the student’s hypothesis, research, experiment and conclusion. The last round for the Grand Prize among the top 16 regional finalists is held at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. The grand prize includes a National Geographic trip to the Galapagos Islands, a $50,000 scholarship, while the finalists receive a $25,000 scholarship and assorted packages from sponsoring organizations.

Now let’s look at some of the best eco-friendly innovations presented by inventors at the previous year’s Google Science Fair:

Lalita Prasida Sripada Srisai – winner of the Community Impact Award

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Lalita Prasida Sripada Srisai, a 13 year old girl from Koraput, Odisha, invented a low cost bio-adsorbent water filter, which is used to purify water. Being a person close to villages, she used to observe the villager’s work closely, and that is what bought her an idea to use corn cobs which are waste product of agriculture as a bio-adsorbent to purify water.

Lalita Prasida’s project aims to purify water by flowing it through the layers of corn cobs. This simple, cost-effective and eco-friendly technique is useful for immobilizing the contaminants in domestic and industrial effluents that are found in polluted ponds, reservoirs, and water tanks. Her technique was considered the best one to purify water by removing grease etc., at a low cost. The activated charcoal from corn cobs used can be large or small pieces or also fine sand. If produced in large scale, the water purifier developed by Lalita can be a great help for the poor living in rural areas to access to clean water.

Anurudh Ganesan – winner of LEGO Education Builder Award

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Anurudh Ganesan’s invention is inspired by the problems faced by healthcare workers who have to transport vaccines to remotest corners of the country. So he came up with a simple vapor compression refrigeration system that requires little power and it can easily be transported by people. With the help of his professors, Anurudh Ganesan studied thermodynamic design to come up with the method of cooling vaccines without any ice. His prototype system requires only 2.3watts of energy to cool a well-insulated cold chamber.

Anurudh’s so-called ‘VAXXWAGON’ can keep vaccines between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius for several hours using animal or human power. He attached his prototype to a cycle to prove the energy from cycling could power the system. The system stayed cool during both lab and outdoor tests, including an extensive total 200 hours of continuous testing. This eco-friendly, “no ice, no electric” active refrigeration vaccine transport system can replace the current last-leg transportation of vaccines effectively. On further research it can be improved to be suitable for all terrains conditions, making it affordable to developing countries.

Zhilin Wang – finalist at Google Science Fair 2015

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Zhilin Wang was one of the finalists at the Google Science Fair 2015. His project was to provide affordable renewable energy storage for people living in developing countries who cannot afford the high cost of solar energy. Generally, photo-voltaic solar panels are used to collect solar energy but this energy is costly to store.

Zhilin thought that rechargeable batteries made of zinc air can be a solution because of their low cost and high energy density, but they are limited by the inefficient redox reactions of oxygen which slows down the battery charging process. To speed up the slow chemical reaction produced by oxidizing zinc with oxygen from the air, Zhilin built an aerogel consisting of carbon nanotubes and graphene. Although Zhilin’s prototype is currently very limited, his battery has the potential to be competitive with Lithium-Ion batteries (currently costing $20/10,000mAh) in the near future. Zinc air batteries are expected to be of lower cost in the near future and there is a scope of making low-cost innovations even more affordable.

Samuel Burrow – finalist at Google Science Fair 2015

Image Source – YouTube Screen Grab

Samuel Burrow is a 16-year-old boy from the United Kingdom who won the regional award for his extraordinary thought of cleaning Mother Earth using sunscreens & pencils! Pollution is currently the one of the biggest problems faced around the world and his project aims at cleaning the environment without draining excess power from it. Samuel found that Titanium Dioxide, a major chemical of Sunscreen is also used for self-cleansing windows/buildings, but it can also act as an inefficient photo catalyst.

Samuel Burrow then thought of improvising Titanium Dioxide’s cleaning properties and the material which was a transparent paint out of Graphene (single sheets of graphite), and Titanium Dioxide. This new improvised paint coating of Titanium dioxide and Graphene degrades larger molecules into their constituent parts using sunlight. This substance removes pollutants from air as well as water. It also removes bacteria from surfaces. Samuel’s innovation is easy to apply, abrasion-resistant, cheap, eco-friendly, efficient in all light levels, and can be applied to huge variety of surfaces. It can be made available in coat/powder or sponge form to use in water sanitation or air purification.

Goutham Veerabathini is a Civil Engineer who is very passionate about upcoming green innovations. Being an eco-enthusiast he takes up challenges for promoting social causes. In this regard, he works with an NGO called Street Cause. Goutham also loves socializing.


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