Editor's note: We're celebrating this year's impressive 20 Google Science Fair finalist projects over 20 days in our Spotlight on a Young Scientist series. Learn more about each of these inspiring young people and hear what inspires them in their own words.




Name: Isabella O'Brien

Age Category: 13-15

Home: Ontario, Canada

Project: Recycling shell waste to reduce ocean acidification



Isabella became fascinated with finding out how to preserve natural resources when she encountered a sea of dead coral during a diving trip in Mexico. She researched ocean acidification and seashell waste and discovered that she could create an alkaline buffer by recycling the shell waste and adding it back to the ocean. Her project proves that we can drastically reduce ocean acidification and keep organisms happy and alive in their habitats by recycling shells.

What was the inspiration behind your project?

The inspiration behind my project came after a diving holiday in Mexico, where I observed a lot of dead coral. After doing some research, I discovered that humans production of carbon dioxide (CO2) is modifying ocean chemistry through a process known as ocean acidification, a contributing factor to coral loss. Oceans are becoming more acidic, lowering the pH levels and depleting carbonate ions, which are needed for building seashells and coral skeletons. This is forcing organisms to work harder to build their shells, making them vulnerable to predators, and therefore putting the entire marine ecosystem at risk. I also learned that millions of metric tons of shell waste is produced each year worldwide by the seafood industry and that these shells were made up of 95% calcium carbonate. It was this information that made me wonder what would happen if these shells were returned to the ocean and what impact it would have on the problem of ocean acidification.

When and why did you become interested in science?

I had a fantastic science teacher (Mr. Gordon) in grades 1, 2 and 3, who made learning science both fun and exciting. He would often show us videos of Bill Nye the Science Guy, which were great. Also, I was very lucky to be at a school (St Augustine) that held an annual science fair. Students were eligible to enter starting in grade 4. I couldn't wait to do my first science fair project in grade 4, and I’ve loved science and working on science fair projects ever since.

What words of advice would you share with other young scientists?

My advice to other young scientists would be to be curious, ask questions and work on any subject you find interesting. Sometimes it will be difficult, and sometimes things go wrong and you may have to start again, but do not give up. Have fun and help change the world!