It’s no question that every great achievement starts with a great idea. Take modern technology, for example. Think of every fascinating app on your cell phone, every car you pass on your way to school, and every light bulb in your home; each one of these owes its existence to a single, innovative idea. We as the youth of today must provide the next set of innovative ideas for the future of our planet. We literally will decide the path the world takes as it plows into the future. After some phenomenal experiences over the last few weeks, I’ve been inspired (and comforted) by the incredible potential our insightful generation holds and I can assure you all that we’re in good hands.
From May 10-15, 1500 of the world’s brightest young minds came together to compete at the 2015 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Hailing from over 70 countries, these incredible high school students were able to showcase their potentially world-altering research to a panel of distinguished judges. Over the course of the competition, it became clear that fresh innovation was what really set the great projects apart from the good ones.
At ISEF it’s not uncommon to come across students building nano-robots that repair oil spills or using tropical plants to cure rare forms of liver cancer; but among the 20 categories at the international fair, perhaps the most fascinating projects were to be found in the Environmental Engineering and Environmental Science categories. In these categories, students were looking for elegant solutions to common problems that face our environment today.
One of these students, Habab Idrees of Pakistan, designed a completely solar-powered thermostat that can maintain the temperature of a closed-environment (water cooler, fruit-dryer, home) in a cost-effective and energy-saving way. Idrees came up with this simple machine after carefully analyzing a lotus plant; an indigenous flower to Pakistan that can easily regulate its temperature during changes in the weather. Thanks to Idrees’ finding, many remote homes and communities in rural Pakistan will be able to implement this money and energy-saving device.
Perhaps my favorite project was that of Raneem Hasan Alqwasmi and Amal Hashim Ali of Bethlehem, Palestine. These two 15-year-old girls invented a set of stairs that can generate electricity when it is walked upon. With their small, one-step prototype at their project, the girls were able to step up and down a small step (the step lowering slightly with each application of weight) which drove a gear box that generated electricity. The girls’ design could light a classroom with a daily average of 4 hours of light based on foot traffic they observed in their school. This simple idea could be applied to many populated areas were foot traffic is common, thus providing more electricity from the kinetic energy of moving people.
I, too, had the opportunity to compete at ISEF in the category of Chemical Energy. My project focused on the growth environment of a particular strand of algae for economically feasible biofuel production. Through much research and experimentation, I was able to create a manipulated-environment that helped algae to produce three times as much oil as it does in the wild, thus making biofuel from algae a more feasible and obtainable source of energy. Biofuel from algae burns 90% cleaner than traditional fossil fuels, and it’s created in a very renewable and efficient way that is not in the least bit damaging to the planet.
After spending a week with the smartest and most innovative young people out there, I was inspired to continue to work hard to come up with innovative solutions to help the world we call home.
“It’s ingenuity that will make the difference between a bleak future and a bright one.”
After my experience at the science fair, I was again inspired to be innovative when I visited the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington. Throughout their large, interactive visitor center, visitors have opportunities to learn about simple, sustainable projects around the world that are changing the way we see the future. From a small bug trap that uses smelly socks to kill malaria-infected mosquitoes, to a large machine that converts human waste into fuel and pure drinking water, the presence of bold and new ideas was everywhere.
I was particularly drawn to a large mural at the back of the museum that showcased a brilliant quote by Bill Gates. Pictured below, I believe this statement can hold true for all of us, no matter our age, race, economic condition, or belief. It really shows that the human instinct to create a better world will ultimately prevail, inspiring many to come up with the solutions to solve the problems we face.
On an ending note, if anyone is interested in learning more about the Intel foundation or their international science fair, please check out this link: https://student.societyforscience.org/intel-isef
For more information about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, please visit their website here: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/