In between pep rallies and history tests, these 10 brainy students are refining cancer treatments, cleaning up car exhaust systems, and improving communication between humans and robots.
ALLISON DANA BICK
High School: Millburn High School, Millburn, N.J.
Invention: Smartphone water-quality tester
When Alison Dana Bick was in middle school, a downpour swamped the streets of her hometown and flooded its well. Public officials warned that flooding might have carried sewage into the water supply. "My friend called to ask if there was a way to check the safety of the tap water," Bick says. When a Google search revealed that there wasn't any fast and easy household test, she decided to create one. Four years later, she completed work on a cellphone application that determines the concentration of bacteria in a photographed sample of water. Unlike current water-testing kits that take 18 hours to evaluate the full chemical and bacterial content of a sample, Bick's cellphone test provides a simple answer—contaminated or safe to drink—immediately. Bick knew that Colilert-18, one of the most common water-quality testing agents, turned yellow when mixed with bacteria-contaminated water; the more the bacteria, the darker the hue. So she developed an algorithm to read and analyze the yellow-pixel intensity in a low-resolution photo of the chemical water sample. She is currently collaborating with the Millburn Short Hills chapter of the American Red Cross to field-test the system.
College: Bick starts her freshman year at Princeton University this fall. She plans to study chemical engineering.
High School: Los Alamos High School, Los Alamos, N.M.
Invention: Portable, solar-powered desalination unit
Ryan Erickson may live on a high desert mesa, but he has big plans for the ocean. Last year, he began to develop an interest in large desalination projects—which remove salt and other minerals from seawater to make it drinkable—in countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Australia. But he soon learned that no one had built a portable, automated, affordable desalination system that also treats seawater for harmful bacteria—although millions of people, including those living in coastal nations, lack safe drinking water. His solar-powered device, a three-foot cube easily carried by two people, relies on readily available materials: sand, charcoal, and plastic bottles. Saltwater is filtered through layers of sand and charcoal before entering a boiling chamber. The steam is cooled and collected on a condenser coil and then exposed to a SteriPEN, which kills harmful bacteria with ultraviolet light. Other portable desalination systems are less sophisticated and can remove only salt from the water, not other harmful contaminants. Erickson's next step is to redesign the system to make it even more compact.
College: This fall, Erickson will enter the University of California, San Diego, where he will study electrical engineering.
High School: Plano East Senior High School, Plano, Texas
Other teenagers, upon receiving their learner's permit, think only about driving to the mall. But behind the wheel for the first time, 17-year-old Param Jaggi couldn't stop thinking about exhaust. Ever since, he has been working on a novel carbon-dioxide capture system that fits on the end of a tailpipe. In Jaggi's design, exhaust enters a chamber filled with algae, which uses light from an LED and CO2 in photosynthesis. The by-products of the process, water and oxygen, are eventually released out of a canister-shaped attachment on the exhaust pipe. Other systems in development capture CO2 inside filters or chemicals, which must be disposed of. Jaggi's algae system only grows more algae. The device (patent pending) won the EPA's 2011 Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair this May. The algae in it currently needs to be emptied every three to five months, but Jaggi is working on tweaking light conditions and chemicals to stretch it to six months. The extra time would match it with the average oil-change interval so that drivers could take care of both at the same time.
College: Jaggi will start at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, this fall, where he plans to major in pre-med.
VERY thankful that two of these young inventors were from my home state (TEXAS!) and at least one was home-schooled!
I have known a few adults that were home schooled as children. I will just say they don't adapt well to society. And leave it at that.
I love the kids using tin to create more effective radiation therapy. Making existing treatments more effective AND at an affordable price is definitely the sort of inspired thinking that will change our everyday world.
Boka, these are the type of people locked in basements provided with huge funding to dedicate their lives to research for the greater good. The have no lives..
Thanks to them, I have a cooler that throws me a beer on command.
Keep on researching you researchers. we love ya
i like the last one, algae based fuels should be more fleshed out than what they are, think about it, the algae scrubs the air of C02 constantly, so it is either really small or possibly even carbon neutral. but like all other plans for alternate energy it needs to be convenient, scalable, and effective.
for instance, i understand gas, petroleum gas, it is simple, it burns, that expands, pushing a piston, bam the work is done. i don't quite understand fuel cells, you have two plates one copper the other God knows what, you pass water or something between them, ????, profit? also i can get gas at a gas station, what i can't get at a gas station is a battery for an electric car.
another example is that the coal operation is massive, there are coal plants in just about every state providing large quantities of electricity, i think the last time i checked it was bringing in 30% of ameria's electricity where as alternate fuels combined brought in 5% so the scale is what has really been hindering that.
finally the energy density of gas has not been seen in many other things, the only way that we come close is by creating processes to create the same oil, which usually don't pan out, or is nuclear.
which brings me to my final subject, lets go nuclear, seriously it isn't as dangerous as people make it out to be, the rise in background radiation around nuclear reactors drops off completely after the first 1000 feet, and we already seem to be digging ourselves a nice oil filled grave so why don't we make it interesting and have it glow?
to mars or bust!
Agreed !! Great article! I know many home school kids that excel specially in Science and math; Hopefully this helps other parents understand how home school works these days; Kids go to home school groups weekly and have exposure to way more hands on activities than regular school kids.
Numbers don't lie, if you check the stats you will see great amount of home school kids entering very exclusive universities and performing very well.
Check out this girl for example, had she not had the opportunity to study at home science would had miss on a huge scientist. (Canada lost her)
see the web link at:
Eva Vertes found herself on the road to international science superstardom recently, after she found a compound that successfully prevents nerve cells from dying in an Alzheimer’s disease cellular model. Her research has extraordinary implications in the race to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. What’s even more remarkable is that Vertes made her discovering while working on her Grade 10 science fair project.
Several awards, scholarships and prestigious research opportunities soon followed (including a mentorship with neurologist Dr. Michael Rathbone at McMaster University in Hamilton, as well as year-long stint in Chieti, Italy, working with one of Rathbone’s colleagues). In fact, she was so busy with her research, Vertes decided to complete high school via correspondence, a fact that did not sit well with Canadian university admissions boards. She was rejected by all three Canadian schools, but was eagerly pursued by officials at Princeton University, who offered her a scholarship.
After Princeton, Vertes plans on attending Harvard for medical school and to obtain her PhD, so that she can continue her research.
The CO filtration system for car exhaust sounds interesting. There might also be ways to adjust the temperatures needed for the optimal algae growth/CO2 capture. On a large scale, coal power companies could use this to grow algae that creates bio-fuel. A win-win-win, clean energy, clean air, and the bonus of a bio-fuel bi-product.
@boka May I remind you that this is a science themed website. Therefore, it might be expected that comments might be expected to be logical. If I were to say something like "I saw two blue monkeys, therefore all monkeys must be blue...let's leave it at that", I would be seen as pretty ridiculous and not credible. This is how you have portrayed yourself. Did you do a thorough study on these two homeschoolers? Did you find conclusive results that they didn't "adapt well to society"? What are your measures of adaptation to society? Since I am fairly certain that you didn't do this, maybe you should check out some of the *real* studies that have been done on homeschoolers over the past thirty years that show that they are actually higher on measures of social success than the general population. Maybe you also need to remember that schools have only been around for approximately the last 150 years, and before that everyone was homeschooled. So, according to your conclusion, I guess that would mean that all of society did not adapt well to society in that time period.
There is EVERYTHING wrong with your statement. It does not matter to you that every one of these young people have already been far more productive in their few short years than you ever will be... you find some pointless detail to criticize them in the same way all gifted kids are growing up-- having to ignore bullies and tormentors such as yourself.
Did you happen to notice that no other commentors agreed with you, and several have openly condemned your attempt to belittle these individuals? (I DON'T want to call them "kids"... it sounds disrepectful in light of their accomplishments.) You did not offer a SINGLE word of acknowledgment! Of the many of us that have read this article, and then read your response, tell me: do you think we'd all rather be living with all them as neighbors, or with a bunch of clones of a clown such as yourself?!
Your comments are NOT appreciated... if you had any intelligence at all, you'd actually be doing something constructive rather than trying to tear down and attack someone that's actually a contributor!
To all of you mentioned in this article-- we all praise your work, and will be looking forward to seeing the wonderful things you'll be doing in the coming years.
@ Ms. Bagley:
Thank you so much for the article, but could you please make a special effort to print the names correctly? Is his name spelled Matt Feddersen (4 spellings) or Matt Fedderson (2 spellings?) Please correct the article.
It really is discouraging to see what has happened to Pop Sci over the years-- go back over articles written in the 60's or 70's, and you will notice that stories were obviously edited much more critically than they are today-- typos were very uncommon, and when they did occur, they were usually mistakes that were more difficult to catch, such as the transposition of a couple of digits of the boiling point of some liquid. Today, it is common to find multiple errors in a single article. Unlike mags covering fashion, entertainment, or many other topics, accuracy is important in magazines covering science and technology.
Free online publishing is nearly ubiquitous, which means that dedicated proofreaders and fact-checkers are now nearly non-existent, but there is a creative solution.
After completing an article, writers or editors can email individuals such as myself or anyone else that posts comments regularly on Pop Sci, and you can make a simple, gracious, dignified request: "Dear So-and-So: we appreciate your ongoing comments submitted to our magazine. Try as we might, we still sometimes commit the occasional typo, and, without the funding for a proofreading staff that we once had, we would ever so much appreciate it if we could occasionally forward articles to you prior to publication so that you might help us correct the errors we fail to catch ourselves. This is entirely voluntary, of course, and it would be done gratis, but is this a favor we could ask of you from time to time?"
I'd be willing to wager you'd find that many readers with excellent language skills would be overjoyed to help you-- many are likely to be retired, and would be eager to use their brains for something a little more purposeful than just doing crosswords and Sudoku. I would love to see that become the accepted norm of publishing, not just for Pop Sci, but for all forms of online publishing, and it would help to keep editing standards at acceptable levels.
For other readers that feel as I do, please let Pop Sci know that you'd like to offer your proofreading help.
I thank you, as do all of your readers, for continuing to keep us informed.