Young geniuses shaking science up

On International Youth Day 2015 and following its theme, “Youth Civic Engagement”, DiscovHER celebrates young teenagers who are both incredibly talented and engaged in science for the greater good. From a device to stop drivers falling asleep at the wheel to a generator powered by urine, these young women scientists are making their mark on science while still in their teens.

The schoolgirls generating electricity from urine

Abiola Akindele, Zainab Eniola Bello, Adebola Duro-Aina, Oluwatoyin Faleke (Nigeria)

Aged 14 and 15 years old, these young women created a generator powered through an unlikely resource - human urine. In a country plagued by power cuts, the deaths of a family of five from carbon monoxide fumes from a home generator, prompted the four schoolgirls to try to come up with a safe and sustainable energy solution. They created a generator from an old car battery, an empty gas storage tank, filters, pipes and valves – and an infinitely renewable resource – human urine. They found that just one liter of urine could create six hours of electricity. The Lagos State Government is now planning to develop their urine-powered generator for larger scale production.

The 13-year-old inventor of a headset to keep drivers awake

Katherine Wu (US)

82% of America’s drowsy driving crashes occur with only one person in the car. So schoolgirl Katherine Wu invented the driver’s companion, a headset monitoring EEG brain waves and eye blinks, to detect drowsiness before it affects the driver. We blink more when we’re tired and our EEG activity corresponds to how drowsy we feel. Linked to a tablet computer, slight drowsiness will turn on music the driver has previously selected to keep awake plus green flashing lights. If heavier drowsiness is detected, the device beeps warnings, a message to get off the road plus flashes yellow or red lights depending on the level of drowsiness. Wu, whose invention won her a place as a finalist in 3M’s Young Scientist Challenge at the age of 13, is now working on her next project to predict obesity in children.

The 17-year-old who invented a battery using eggplant

Shannon Xinjing Lee (Singapore)

Researchers have been trying to develop an alternative to metal batteries for years. Shannon Xinjing Lee, a schoolgirl from Singapore may have come up with the unlikeliest solution, eggplant. At the age of 17, Lee created an electrocatalyst made with Chinese eggplant, a more environmentally friendly and inexpensive alternative. Lee discovered that activated, carbonised Chinese eggplant functions as a more stable electrocatalyst compared to the catalysts currently commercially available. Her invention won the 2014 Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award. Lee intends to further investigate the stability of the eggplant and publish a research paper on her findings.

The 16-year-olds using bacteria to aid the world food crisis

Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow (Ireland)

When these three teenage microbiology enthusiasts discovered bacteria in pea plant roots enhanced its’ growth, they decided to investigate further. The, then 16-year-olds, had been learning about the African food crisis and wondered could the right bacteria help prevent crops from failing? Using Rhizobium strains of the Diazotroph bacteria family, the trio explored the benefit on the germination and growth of wheat, oat and barley, taking a staggering 130,000 measurements. Their results proved them right. Germination increased by up 50%, and barley yields by 74%. These Google Science finalists plan to extend their trials – and ultimately commercialize the discovery to increase food production in the developing world using bacteria, and less fertilizer.

The 17-year-old who invented a portable device to purify water + generate electricity

Cynthia Sin Nga Lam (Australia)

Clean water and electricity from one device? Keen on chemistry and solutions for developing countries, Cynthia Sin Nga Lam designed a portable purification and energy device in-one. Called H2Pro: Portable photocatalytic Electricity Generation and Water Purification Unit, the device uses sunlight to sterilize water, while at the same time producing hydrogen to generate clean electricity. Lam, a Google Science Fair 2014 Global finalist, says the system could be used in the home.

You know a teenage genius ? Let us know at @4womeninscience!

Marking International #YouthDay, every day in August, the UN will spotlight a youngster driving change in their community. See the gallery here. 

For Women in Science

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