Editor's note: Last week, 16 year olds Sophie, Ciara and Emer, from Kinsale, Ireland, scooped the grand prize at the 2014 Google Science Fair. Today, they’re sharing more about their project and giving us a glimpse into their experience during the competition.

After working on our project for three years, we decided it was time to enter it into the 2014 Google Science Fair. Our project investigates a natural bacteria called rhizobium that’s found in soil and helps to speed up cereal crop germination. The inspiration for this project came when Emer was gardening with her mom. After pulling up pea plants, they noticed wart like nodules on the roots. Emer brought these into our science teacher, and it was here we learned that rhizobium bacteria lives in the nodules. We were told about the symbiotic relationship it formed with legume plants and we all found it to be an interesting bacteria.

At the same time, we were also learning about the African food crisis in our Geography class, which led us to wonder about ways we could help farmers whose crops die off before they even have a chance to grow in the soil. We thought, perhaps there is a way for us to use the science we’d learned about to help. And that was what sparked the whole project!

After carrying out many tests, our findings showed great potential. We found an increase in germination rate by up to 50% for barley and oat seeds, which could significantly decrease loss of seeds due to rotting. We also found an increase in dry mass yield of the crops by up to 70%. This could potentially mean the production of more food. It’s also possible that this reduces the amount of fertilizer needed, providing benefits for the environment. We believe that our project, along with our future work can really aid the food poverty challenge and the food crisis.

When we got through to the final 15 of the Google Science Fair, we were so shocked. The competition was an amazing experience — and we made so many memories during our time at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. We met the other finalists who came from all corners of the globe, each with a different story to tell. It was great to have so many people with common interests in the same room! On one of the days, the display hall was opened to thousands of middle and high school students and it was great to speak to them and to see their enthusiasm for science. When we were announced as winners of the Google Science Fair we were incredibly surprised, yet over the moon!
We’re now going to embark on new phases of the project, including large processing trials and advanced analysis of the mechanism behind our discovery. We also intend to investigate the other potential applications of rhizobium bacteria aside from agriculture.

Our advice to any student starting out on a science project would be to choose a subject in an area you are passionate about and to never give up. There's more than one way to answer the same question, and if you have to change the direction of your investigation once or twice (or even more!), that's okay.