Top Story: July 27, 2012

Our Young Future

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By Nan Sincero

I’m happy to report, the future isn’t what it used to be.

“This is where the cool stuff’s happening. Where else are you going to find a field where you don’t just predict the future, you can come up with the test ideas that might just BE the future.”  -- Catherine Wong, age 16, 2012 Google Science Fair finalist

“[Science] lets me know that my age doesn’t inhibit my abilities and I too can be useful to the community.” -- Sakhiwe Shongwe, age 14, co-winner of the Science in Action Prize, 2012 Google Science Fair

“We’re the future doctors, the future programmers, the future engineers, the future environmentalists, and we’re going to be the people on the frontier solving tomorrow’s problems.” -- Brittany Wenger, age 17, Grand Prize winner, 2012 Google Science Fair

These are just some of the impassioned words spoken in a vintage airplane hanger in Palo Alto, California on July 23 when 21 finalists of the 2nd Annual International Google Science Fair gathered with their families, science celebrities, California Academy of Sciences youth, and many others, at a gala to celebrate ground-breaking achievements by young scientists from around the globe.

Google’s science fair is a partnership between Google, CERN, National Geographic, Scientific American and Lego. The 2012 fair received more than 5000 entrants in 14 languages from over 100 countries. In just a few months, the fair’s judges (including oceanographer and Academy fellow, Sylvia Earle, CERN’s Director of Accelerators, Steve Myers, and father of the internet, Vint Cerf), whittled the number down to 21 finalists, including three top awards in age groups 13-14, 15-16, and 17-18, plus a grand prize winner.  This year, another award was added, the Science in Action Prize given by Scientific American for a project that addresses a social, environmental, ethical, health or welfare issue to make a practical difference to the lives of a group or community.

The top 3 winners were:

Jonah Kohn, age 14 from San Diego, California – his project: Good Vibrations: Improving the Music Experience for people with hearing loss using multi-frequency tactile sound.

Iván Hervías Rodríguez, 17; Marcos Ochoa, 16; Sergio Pascual, 15, all from Logroño, Spain – their project: The Hidden Life of Water, studying microscopic organisms and their activity and presence in fresh water.

Brittany Wenger, age 17, Lakewood, Florida, Grand Prize winner – her project: Global Neural Network Cloud Service for Breast Cancer, successfully detecting 99.11% of malignant breast tumors.

The Science in Action Prize was awarded to Sakhiwe Shongwe, age 14 from Siteki, Swaziland and Bonkhe Mahlalela, also 14 from Simunye, Swaziland – their project:  Unique Simplified Hydroponic Methods, investigates which systems can be used to generate food to feed poor families and generate income.

The day after the gala, the celebration continued when the 21 finalists and their families toured several San Francisco landmarks, including the California Academy of Sciences. They were toured at the Academy by three researchers and six Careers in Science Interns – young scientists in a program that provides San Francisco youth from communities traditionally underrepresented in the sciences, with opportunities to immerse themselves in the natural world, develop life and job skills, receive college and career mentorship, and learn science and sustainability concepts in an authentic, paid work environment.

Luckily for the future of the planet, the days of baking soda experiments are over.

Nan Sincero is a naturalist and docent coordinator at the Academy.

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