Google Thinks These 20 Teenagers Could Change Our World for the Better

These kids from around the globe have created innovative new technologies, from malaria-testing apps to water-saving agriculture systems

Winners at last year's Google Science Fair (Google Science Fair)
smithsonian.com

Today Google announced the 16 global finalists of its 2016 Science Fair. These teens, who hail from Brazil to Bangladesh, Martha's Vineyard to Malaysia, Singapore to South Africa, have created an astonishing variety of programs, projects and devices. They've built a better rocket, found ways of fighting drought, developed new tests for cancer and much, much more. And none of them are older than 18 (makes you ask "what have I been doing with myself lately," doesn't it?). Here, we introduce you to the finalists, one of whom will become the Grand Prize winner, snagging a $50,000 scholarship, while several others will receive smaller prizes. 

Maria Vitória Valoto, 16, Londrina, Brazil: Making Milk Lactose-Free

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(Google Science Fair)

Some 65 percent of the global population is lactose intolerant, meaning they have a reduced ability to produce the enzyme that allows the body to digest milk. Maria, 16, from Brazil, a country with at least 50 million lactose intolerant citizens, noticed that lactose-free milk was twice as expensive as regular, and that lactose enzyme pills from the pharmacy were also too pricey for the average Brazilian. Would it be possible, she wondered, to create a cheap, reusable product that hydrolyzed the lactose in milk, making it drinkable for everyone? In a multi-stage experiment, she developed capsules that do just that. The capsules, which are not edible, can be reused for up to a week, though their efficacy declines by the end. The capsules cost just pennies—Maria estimates that they could save a lactose-intolerant Brazilian family the equivalent of nearly $225 a year. 

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