Intel's 2018 International Science and Engineering Fair at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Photo by Matt H. King.

They came from Australia and Thailand, Kenya and Puerto Rico. They represented Folsom, Calif., and Port Saint Lucie, Fla., Pittsburgh and Venetia in Washington County.

Their ideas and inventions have limitless possibilities and applications. In a few instances, their innovations are already are having an impact.

And they’re only teenagers.

Last week at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair showcased 1,800 projects by students from 80 countries who were competing for more than $5 million in awards. The students had earned the right to vie for the prizes through 420 affiliated science fairs.

“We are continually inspired by these brilliant, young minds and their creative approaches to solving important, complex issues,” said Rosalind Hudnell, Intel vice president of corporate affairs and president of the Intel Foundation.

The fair, a centerpiece of the city’s annual Remake Learning Days event,  featured projects exploring robotic applications, health care issues and biochemistry problems. Students from Delaware, Maryland, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and local high schools greeted the participants as if they were celebrities.

That sort of attention — think of it as the Academy Awards for young scientists — is merited, according to Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of the Society for Science & the Public and publisher of Science News.

“These students hold the key to global innovation in creating a better world for generations to come,” Ajmera said.

Oliver Nicholls, 19, of Sydney, Australia, was awarded the first place prize of $75,000 for designing and building a prototype of an autonomous robotic window cleaner for commercial buildings.

Students from around the world brought their innovative ideas to Intel’s event here in Pittsburgh. Photo by Matt H. King.
Students from around the world brought their innovative ideas to Intel’s event here in Pittsburgh. Photo by Matt H. King.

Here are the stories of six other finalists whose projects are making a difference.

Emily Serisier lives on a farm in southern Australia, where her chores include gathering eggs. It struck her that storing eggs at room temperature — as is the custom in Australia, even in supermarkets — might not be optimal for quality.

Serisier gathered eggs from different hens on her family farm and stored them in four conditions — refrigerated, room temperature, outdoors and under a heat lamp — in order to find the best environment.

“Most people just see eggs as breakfast foods,” Serisier said. “But an egg is more than that. It has the potential to be a living thing. An egg is a self-contained environment from which a chicken can grow.”

Serisier found that eggs that are refrigerated at a constant low temperature tend to maintain quality the longest. But there is one question that Serisier’s project can’t definitively answer: How are eggs best served?

“I prefer omelets,” she said.

Signage inside the Convention Center during Intel’s science and engineering fair. Photo by Jennifer Baron.
Signage inside the Convention Center during Intel’s science and engineering fair. Photo by Jennifer Baron.

Benjamin Cummings, a junior at Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill, was only eight years old during the influenza A (H1N1) outbreak of 2009. When the strain reappeared in 2018, he recognized that detection of influenza needed to be improved.

“It’s so contagious, and it was a wake-up call to the scientific community when it reappeared this season,” he said.

Cummings’ project involved taking an established methodology using carbon nanotubes as biosensors, and making it more efficient. The Point Breeze resident created a new biosensor that allows quicker detection of influenza.

“People will be able to use this to tell if it’s influenza A or influenza B,” he says, “or if it’s influenza all.”

A career in medicine appeals to the 17-year-old, but he’s also interested in acting.

“This summer I’m doing a drama program at CMU,” Cummings says. “I want to see if, in college, I can do a dual major and get a B.S. and a B.A. in science and drama.”

Yanopat Nikomrak lives in Ubon Ratchathani, a heavily forested area in eastern Thailand. There are two problems that cause deforestation in the area: forest fires and illegal logging.

Nikomrak’s solution: a wireless sensor network that notifies officials when either activity occurs.

“The one that detects illegal logging is based on sound,” said the 19-year-old, noting that it picks up the sound of chainsaws that create a distinct frequency. “The one that detects wildfires uses air pressure and the conditions in the forest.”

Nikomrak spent three years developing the devices that are compact and can be easily attached to trees. They are now widely used in the region where he lives.

Australian student Lachlan Bolton’s portable surfboard. Photo by Matt H. King.
Australian student Lachlan Bolton’s portable surfboard. Photo by Matt H. King.

Lachlan Bolton, 19, is an avid surfer from Sydney, Australia, who is currently taking a gap year after high school. Bolton’s invention, Future Board, may soon be a game changer in the surfing world.

“I have created the world’s first ultra-portable and extendable surfboard,” Bolton said. “Not only can my surfboard fit conveniently into the boot (trunk) of a car, but it can also extend in length to suit varying surf conditions.”

It took three months of design and refinement to get Future Board ready for its true test: How would it compare to the traditional boards used by surfers on Sydney’s beaches? Lachlan enlisted accomplished surfers in varying swell conditions, hoping it would at least come close to traditional surfboards.

“All were amazed by its ability to perform like a normal surfboard in terms of speed, performance and maneuverability,” Bolton said.

He plans to study environmental science when he attends college next year.

Nicole Munne’s project, “Development of an In Vitro Human Liver Model for Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease,” sounds like a peer-reviewed article in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Rege Behe

Rege Behe is an award-winning journalist, writer, and editor. A native of Trafford, Pa., he's covered school board meetings, reviewed concerts, and interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winners including Michael...