Smells like teen science

Students explain their research at the International Science and Engineering Fair

ATLANTA – Gray skies and drenching rain couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the world’s brightest young scientists who spent the day explaining their projects in a packed exhibit hall May 15 at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

As parents, teachers, hordes of elementary school kids and other visitors strolled among the booths, the more than 1,500 high school students stood sentry, explaining their investigations of conundrums such as dark matter, antibiotic resistance and goldfish communication.

Many of the students, whose success at previous science fairs qualified them for the Atlanta fair, were tackling problems that vex society today, but that industry or government has done little to amend. Huzeifa Badshah and Steven Schroeder, students at NorthsideHealthCareersHigh School in San Antonio, focused on reducing lawn mower emissions, which contribute substantially to air pollution. By tinkering with octane levels, oil levels and back pressure, Badshah and Schroeder found they could make an average lawn mower much less wasteful.

“It’s about a 10 minute change — putting on a new muffler and lowering the oil level 5 centimeters,” Badshah said. Schroeder said that when they talked to some lawn mower manufacturers about the idea, the industry response was, “Why should we spend money on this? It isn’t regulated.”

“We’re hoping to raise awareness,” Schroeder said.

Other students looked into replacing toxic chemicals that are commonly used in household products with more environmentally friendly substances. Lavanya Giriraj, a student from Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, in Mandya, India, decided to investigate alternatives to synthetic dyes that are used in fabrics, paints and foods. Studies of many of these artificial dyes have shown they can cause cancer in mice. Giriraj extracted dye from the petals of Ixora coccinea, a fuschia-flowered plant in the coffee family. She successfully dyed ice cream, cotton, silk and prepared water color and oil paints from the pigment. The fabric remained a rich sandstone color, even after washing. Different species of Ixora have different colored flowers, making it a promising alternative to artificial dyes, she explained.

John D. Wu, from PrincetonHigh School, in Princeton, N.J., aims to fight crime with ears. Yes, you heard it right, ears. After learning that some criminals were identified when the camera caught them in the stands during the Super Bowl, Wu began investigating the biometrics of the human ear. “Everyone’s ears are different, even twins,” he says. After collecting pictures of several ears, Wu built a model to extract the salient features, while minimizing noise in the data. He plans to continue this research, using several online databases to refine his model.

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition and is run by Society for Science & the Public, which publishes Science News. More than 1,500 high school students from over 40 countries showcase their independent research at the fair and compete for roughly $4 million in prizes and scholarships. Since 1997 Intel Corp. has partnered with Society for Science & the Public in sponsoring the fair. Agilent Technologies is the presenting sponsor this year.

Read more about ISEF here and here .

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