April 3, 2012 Leave a comment
In 2011, Google introduced its first ever science fair that challenged students ages 13-18 to answer the big questions they had about science, life, and how the world works. Of course, many people have questions, but Google sought out the most curious minds from across the globe that went a step further and actually got answers. After a long and grueling selection process, three winners were chosen in each of three age groups (13-14, 15-16, 17-18). Notably and highly encouraging, all three were young women – a gender known for its general underrepresentation in the sciences.
In the 13-14 age group, Lauren Hodge studied the effects of marinades on potentially harmful carcinogens in grilled chicken. As her prize, she received a $25,000 scholarship and an internship at LEGO. In the 15-16 age group, Naomi Shah won for her study that showed how changes to indoor environments could improve the lives of asthma patients. For her efforts, she was also awarded a $25,000 scholarship and a Google internship. Finally, in the 17-18 age group, Shree Bose wowed the judges with her discovery of a way to improve cancer treatment for patients that have built up resistance to specific chemotherapy drugs. She was awarded a $50,000 scholarship and an internship with CERN, the world-renowned Geneva-based laboratory that is the leader in particle physics and nuclear research. The judges were impressed by the girls’ “intellectual curiosity, their tenaciousness and their ambition to use science to find solutions to big problems.” They recently met with President Obama and also spoke at the TED Women conference in Los Angeles.
In other youth science news – that will also make readers feel quite inadequate – 17-year-old Taylor Wilson recently gave his own brief TED Talk about his short career as a…nuclear physicist? Yes, at the ripe age of 14 he built a nuclear fusion reactor in his garage, a technology he believes will be the future of energy. He has also developed special safety detectors for a few hundred dollars – which normally cost the Department of Homeland Security a few hundred thousand dollars. Taylor has even found ways to develop medical isotopes at small scale. He says, “I started out with a dream to make a star in a jar, and I ended up…making things that I think can change the world.”
Much of the debate surrounding science and technology education in the United States is resoundingly negative. Our test scores lag, we produce fewer bachelors and advanced degrees in the sciences, fewer children have a passion for science. All this, many predict, will lead to America’s innovative decline; we will no longer be able to compete in the area that made our economy so strong. But seeing competitions like those of Google or First Robotics, the passion shown by those three young women, and the curiosity of Taylor should give pause to those naysayers. These young people are also evidence of how American institutions like equal opportunity and individual freedom foster what remains the best environment for innovation and creativity the world has ever seen. They will be the ones to invent the future and are a source of hope and inspiration for America’s competitive future. Like TED says, these are certainly ideas worth spreading.
Posted by Brian Gowen
Sources: Google, TED, The New York Times, Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program