This episode of DNews is brought to you by
the U.S. Air Force. The scientific method is so good it can turn
a 13 year old who left bananas on the counter into an international celebrity! Every year, Google partners with other global
companies and invites kids from all over the world to showcase their science prowess at
the Google Science Fair and the 2014 winners were announced Monday night! I love the Google
Science Fair but it makes me feel super lazy. It’s open to 13-18 year old students who perform
an experiment following the scientific method… they just have to upload a video to explain
it! This year, the grand prize winner is a group
of gals from Ireland! Ciara (Kira) Judge, Emer Hickey, and Sophie Healy-Thow spent three
years exploring the warts on a pea plant. Weird, I know, but good science has humble
beginnings. The three students were learning about the global food crisis in school, and
found the pea plant’s warts contained rhizobia bacteria; which benefit the plants by creating
ammonia and fixing nitrogen which helps the plants grow. These young scientists figured, if rhizobia
helped pea plants it might help others too! They applied the rhizobia to wheat, oats and
barley and increased germination rates by 50 percent and crop yields by 75 percent!
That’s HUGE! And that was three years ago when they were only 13. Since then they’ve
applied the rhizobia to 13,000 seeds and created a control field in their hometown with another
3,600 seeds. Yet another example of the microbiome of a plant revolutionizing farming without
chemical pesticides or fertilizers. The bacteria help by reducing the amount of rot that naturally
happens to plant roots in wet climes, like Ireland! The 17-18 age group global winner, Haley Todesco
of Canada, created an experiment to see if her method could better clean oil from sand.
Imagine that, trying to clean toxic waste from oil sands extraction. Oil sands are a
mixture of sand, clay, water, and petroleum. Companies are learning to extract the petroleum
from the sand and clay, but the byproduct is highly toxic and is usually left in reservoirs
do detoxify for centuries. Haley grew up in a part of Alberta where these
toxic reservoirs are fairly common. She wanted to find a way to solve the problem. She drew
inspiration from European sewage systems of the 19th century, and created bacteria based
biofilms that would eat the acids in the oily byproduct. She spent two years working on
the filtration system and her hard work paid off. The bioreactors she created are cheap
and work fourteen times better than the ones in use today. This project will shorten the
time it takes to detoxify the ponds from “centuries to decades,” she said. The third global winner is from the United
States // USA USA USA // Mahir Garimella’s family went on vacation and returned to a
house full of fruit flies! Their mistake proved fruitful, as Mahir noticed the flies brains
were incredible at 3D navigation and dodging their attempts to capture them! That’s amazing!
A 1 billion neuron mammal can’t grab a 1,000 neuron insect? Eureka! Let’s learn from this!
From there, 14-year-old Mahir designed a flying robot based on the cognition of these fruity
flies. He designed a visual module inspired by the flies’ and created algorithms for the
robot’s propellers to mimic the escape behaviors of these tiny pests. Practically speaking, the work these kids
are doing could quite literally change the world, they could grow more food, clean up
after dirty energy collection, and help create stable, affordable flying robots for commercial
and industrial application. Their inspiration came from everyday things, from school and
from their own silly mistakes… like accidentally leaving bananas on the counter during a vacation.
Science can from from anywhere, and from anyone. Don’t think I didn’t notice that 4 of the
six winners were girls. Nice job ladies, we need your science brains too! These were just
three of the dozens of projects from all over the world. Olfactory alarm clocks, computers
that help mute people speak, projects to protect orangutans, power generation, agriculture,
engineering… these kids are the future, and it’s awesome. The U. S. Air Force has an eye on the future,
too. I wanna give a quick shout out to them for making this possible. Fun fact: Air Force
was the first to break the sound barrier in 1947! And has been breaking new barriers in
science and technology ever since. So did you ever join a science fair? What
was your project? I did a thing about Earthquakes, and made a diorama and everything! It was
fun, but nothing quite as involved as all this.
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