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Google hosts its fourth-annual science fair. Shown here, the 2013 winners. (Andrew Federman)

Google Thinks These 18 Teenagers Will Change the World

The global finalists of this year’s Google Science Fair take on cyberbullying countermeasures, tar sands cleanup and wearable tech

smithsonian.com

Each year, a precocious bunch of teenagers from around the globe submits projects to the Google Science Fair, an online science competition judged by teachers, professors and, in the final round, bigwigs in the science and tech scenes.  

“We believe that universal access to technology and information can truly make the world a better place,” Google says on the contest’s website. For this reason, the search engine giant started the fair four years ago “to champion young scientific talent and give students across the world an opportunity to showcase ambitious ideas.”

This year thousands of students, ages 13 to 18, from more than 90 countries entered their very own research in biology, physics and chemistry and computer, environmental and social sciences, among other topic areas. The judges considered the inspiration and impact of the projects, as well as the research methods, communication skills and passion of the young scientists to select 90 regional finalists in June. This week, the panel announced the top 18 finalists.

These students—9 females and 9 males from 9 nations—will head to Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, next month to compete for age category awards and the grand prize. The overall winner will receive $50,000 in scholarship funding, a 10-day trip to the Galapagos with National Geographic Expeditions and a behind-the-scenes look at the Virgin Galactic Spaceport in New Mexico.

Kenneth Shinozuka, 15, United States

(Kenneth Shinozuka)

Kenneth Shinozuka of New York City has been inventing products for his grandfather, an Alzheimer’s patient, for years. First he rigged up a smart bathroom that would send an alert to his wristwatch if his grandfather fell. Then it was a smart pillbox that alerted its user to take medicine when it sounded and flashed. Now he has created a wearable device to monitor his grandfather’s wandering. “Once the patient steps onto the floor, a sensor worn on the foot will immediately detect the pressure caused by body weight and wirelessly trigger an audible alert in a caregiver’s smartphone,” he reports.

Shinozuka’s prototype consists of a film sensor, a Bluetooth-enabled sensor circuit and an app. He tested the safety device on his grandfather over the course of six months and is expanding his sample size by bringing the sensor to nursing homes—collecting data that may provide some insight into why 65 percent of Alzheimer’s patients wander.

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