For most people, high school science fairs yield amusing but not altogether practical results: your baking soda and vinegar volcanoes, your potato clocks. There are exceptions, of course: 15-year-old Jack Andraka created a cheap, efficient pancreatic cancer sensor for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. And there are the finalists in Google’s annual science fair, which invites entrants ages 13 through 18 to compete for a variety of prizes. These kids’ results are anything but amusing. They’re potentially world changing.
Below, we look at five of our favorite finalists (there are 15 in total). The winner will be crowned next month.
17-year-old Yamini Naidu from Tigard, Oregon, decided to take on an incredibly difficult task: solving the country’s meth problem. Her project uses computer modeling to find new potential medication leads for treating the dangerous addiction.
16-year-old Rohit Fenn from Bangalore, India, invented a new kind of toilet, dubbed the Vacu-flush that’s exactly what it sounds like: a partial vacuum-assisted toilet flush system (akin to vacuum flush used in airplane toilets) that uses 50% less water than what is traditionally required for a toilet to do its work.
Martin Schneider and Joshua Li (both 14) of Pennsylvania created an idea for educational video games that takes advantage of our natural need to compete against other humans. The pair developed a game and had 62 fourth graders play it–some playing against a virtual competitor named Bob, others just competing against a nameless computer. The presence of Bob increased the number of questions the students answered, especially among the mid-level performers.
14-year-old Jonah Kohn of San Diego, California, built a device that helps deaf people with cochlear implants better experience music. He says in a statement: “I learned that by putting teeth on a guitar, I could hear it over noise. That effect, bone conduction, led me to study tactile sound. I conceived and built a device that filters sound into frequency ranges applied to different body parts.”
Yassine Bouanane, a 17-year-old from Laval, Canada, developed a solar panel that always turns towards its light source–so it’s never left in the shade (unless there really isn’t any sun to be had). His video is in French, but he explains on the science fair page that he wants to calculate the power output of solar panels based on the angle of the light source, and use that information to better orient the panels.