Program Lead

Editor's note: Tune into the Google Science Fair website on July 18th to find out which five young scientists below will win their regional Community Impact Award! With the generous support of our partners, these winners will receive mentors and scholarships to help them further their education and inspiring projects. To keep an eye on the competition, visit the Google Science Fair site, and follow along on Google+ and Twitter.

Through the Google Science Fair, we've invited today's brightest young minds to answer an important question: how can they make the world better through science, math, and engineering? We received thousands of extremely impressive answers to this question from over 107 countries this year, and we can’t wait to announce the winners later in September.

But before we get there, we want to first recognize the projects that aim to solve tough community challenges like providing clean drinking water, keeping people safe from natural disasters, and fighting droughts. This year, we'll be giving not just one, but five regional Community Impact Awards: one for each top project that focuses on fixing a difficult resource problem across North America, Latin America, the Middle East & Africa, Asia & the Pacific Islands and Europe.

Please join us and our partners — LEGO Education, Scientific American, National Geographic and Virgin Galactic — in celebrating the top 25 global Community Impact Award finalists below:


NORTH AMERICA

Keeping Shores Sparkling with the Trusty Mangrove Oyster
José Luis (16) has a passion for protecting the environment and regularly volunteers for beach clean-ups in his hometown of Gurabo, Puerto Rico. Inspired to protect the beaches he loves so much, José Luis set out to find an environmentally safe way to preserve the beauty of the shore's ecosystem. He found the answer in a surprising resource: mangrove oysters! While this delicacy found on Caribbean and South American Atlantic coasts is a popular dish with locals, José Luis discovered that they're also highly efficient organic filters. With the ability to quickly process ~15L of contaminated water within 2 hours without any negative impact on the environment, José Luis believes the mangrove oyster is a safe, cost-effective way to restore and maintain the Gurabo shoreline for years to come.

Saving the Day with Energy-Smart Windows
Naveena (16) wants to solve the problem of global warming, and was on a mission to find a way to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions that cause this phenomenon. With buildings contributing up to 40% of today's global energy consumption, Naveena concluded that simply making buildings more energy-efficient could reduce that consumption by as much as 100 quadrillion BTUs. Her additional research showed that while installing "smart windows" is the quickest and most-recommended solution, they can be too expensive for most people to install. Her answer? Even smarter windows! With help from a cheaper glass coating technology called SEAS-LIR, Naveena believes her Richland, WA community can save thousands of dollars on installation and energy costs, while significantly reducing its overall carbon footprint.

Sniffing Out Chemical Danger in the Air
Eeshan (14) was horrified to discover how harmful poor air quality can be to expectant mothers and young children. It turns out that typical carbon monoxide and smoke detectors can't identify some of the more common chemicals in the air, and that simply opening a window can drastically reduce complications from these pollutants. After surveying mothers in his community, Eeshan also discovered that many people have no idea if or when the air quality has reached a dangerous level around them. He devoted himself to creating a solution: an app that monitors the air around you and sends an alert with specific air improvement instructions based on the level of chemicals it finds. Eeshan hopes his device can help people keep the air safe for their loved ones at home.

Sea Shells for Water Safety 
In 2014, Alex (15) was disappointed to see how difficult it was for the average inner city family to access lead-free drinking water during Flint, Michigan's water crisis in 2014. Eager to create an affordable lead filter option for people to use, he began researching the issue and found that water served to over 6M people across the US contains lead levels that can cause serious illnesses in children and adults. His experiments showed that you can avoid using traditional filters that require a dangerous and environmentally unsafe acid bath, and instead use simple products like sugar, water, a heating mechanism -- and, surprisingly, seashells. Highly absorbent and cheap to create, Alex's new filter lasts for at least 30 days, reducing both lead and iron levels by over 60%. Alex hopes this new solution can be used in his local community and around the US to remove lead from their local water supply until lead pipes can be replaced with safer options.


Growing Fruits & Veggies In Our Own Backyards 
For John (15) and Margaret Mary (16) of Milwaukee, WI, science is a part of everyday home life. With John's talents in Biomedical Engineering, and Margaret Mary's passion for medical and environmental science, the pair decided to see how their different fields could help tackle the same science challenge together. They set out to explore whether the soil in their own backyards could support a sustainable garden for their families, even when treated with common yard care chemicals. To their surprise, it turns out that organisms beneficial to gardening can still thrive in the average suburban yard, providing local families with a yard the chance to grow their own healthy vegetables and fruit. 



LATIN AMERICA

Better Water for Brazil with Seed Magic

In November 2015, a mining dam failure in Brazil led to an ecological disaster when 62M cubic metres of iron-rich mud contaminated 500 km of the River Doce, polluting drinking and irrigation water for 500K people. João (15) and Leticia (18), have been affected by multiple water pollution crises like this one alongside thousands of other people across Brazil. With limited access to advanced treatment resources for restoring local water supplies, particularly when in the middle of an environmental crisis, these students wanted to find an affordable and accessible way for Brazilians to easily treat their water. It was also important to João and Leticia to find an answer that would not introduce even more pollution to the environment. They were excited to discover that the local moringa plant seemed to be a perfect solution: already plentiful in the region and popular to the local diet, the seed cakes left over in local food processing work as biodegradable water filters. João and Leticia look forward to introducing this filtering system to their local community of Fortaleza and across all of Brazil.

Smart Farming with Volcanic Ash
Born and raised in the agricultural towns of Northern Patagonia, Félix (17), Patricio (17), and Jeremías (16) are particularly invested in helping farmers make the most of their crops, even in the face of natural disasters. When the Calbuco Volcano erupted in April 2015, nearby farmers were also dealing with a drought. The trio posed the question: could the farmers somehow use the volcanic ash left behind to grow crops? Their experiments showed this was entirely possible -- while volcanic ash doesn't itself have meaningful nutritional content for growing crops, it does a great job of retaining water. Given local water shortages, these students hope to help farmers in Argentina and Chile revitalize their crops with help from this unexpected source.

No More Head-Scratching: Recycling With Robots
Manuel (18) and Alejandro (18) are concerned about the growing landfill problem in Colombia due to overpopulation and a lack of recycling. They noticed that most people in their community of Bello, Antioquía, Colombia seemed overwhelmed with what to do when faced with multiple recycling bins, and most locals choose not to recycle because of this hassle. Recognizing that recycling can be a difficult good habit for people to adapt to, these students combined their talents in computer science and engineering to build an automated system to solve the problem. Their simple robot tells users which waste bin to throw trash into after a simple scan. Easy! These two look forward to helping Colombians adapt more quickly to recycling, and hopes their new invention leads to a significant decrease of landfill waste in Colombia.

Building Better Biofuels with the Elephant Ear Taro 
Elkin (18) of Medellin, Colombia, studies chemical engineering and is passionate about finding a way to stop global warming through alternative green methods. Given the tropical climate of his country, he wanted to find a plant that could be used to create gasoline sustainably without negatively impacting Colombia's agriculture or air. What he found was the large-leafed 'Alocasia macrorrhiza' -- originating from Southeast Asia, the plant has flourished around the world in tropical rainforests under names like 'Giant Taro' and 'Elephant Ear Taro.' After rigorous testing, Elkin determined it could work as a great biofuel that produces less pollution and actually improves car performance. This is because the plant grows rapidly and burns more efficiently leaving fewer pollutants behind due to its higher ethanol percentages. The plant has a high starch content that produces ethanol levels of 88-90%, while corn and sugar biofuels produce 83-85% ethanol. Elkin also found that you can produce more fuel with the same amount of this plant than you can with sugar cane. Given his research, Elkin is excited to introduce this new plant as a better alternative for an environmentally-friendly ethanol fuel.

Super Green Supermarket Packaging
While walking through the supermarket in Barra do Garças, Mato Grosso, Brazil one day, Kemilly (17) saw just how much waste her grocery produced in one small, easy-to-overlook food display item: plastic and styrofoam food trays. Kemilly wondered if she could find an alternative solution that would be less harmful to the environment and avoid filling local landfills. Her research led her to a magically multi-purpose plant: the buriti palm. An indigenous tree, all parts of the palm are used by local riverside communities to produce products used in daily life, from beauty and health oils to desserts and snacks. The palm fronds are also used to produce a strong fiber that can be woven into baskets and other containers, which can last for decades while still being biodegradable. Kemilly hopes to introduce the buriti palm as an environmentally-safe alternative to throw-away packaging for her local community.


ASIA PACIFIC

Keeping Fishermen Safe at Sea 
In Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, Advay (14) was dismayed to hear how often local Rameswaram fishermen were captured and arrested for long periods of time due to making a simple mistake: crossing an International Maritime Boundary line it was impossible for them to see. Given the high penalties and impact to fishermen's livelihoods, Advay wanted to create an easy-to-use GPS system to send alerts when sailors approached maritime borders or when better fishing was available in another area. The system can also alert fishermen to dangerous weather conditions, so they can steer clear. Advay's invention is designed to work on any type of handheld mobile device, and he hopes that with it more local fishermen can avoid financial hardship and stay safe at sea. 
Congo-ing Nuts: Making Dirty Water Clean
Like others in their local community in central Singapore, Tushmitha (15), Nagajothi (15), and Yan (15) come from diverse backgrounds. All too aware of how difficult it can be for people across India and Southeast Asia to access clean water, the trio wanted to create a safe, economical water filter. The students realized that while textile mills are a significant source of revenue for new economies in many developing countries in the region, they can also leave behind water contaminated with chemical dyes used to color fabrics. For their project, the group created a filter using the porous walnut shell to extract Congo Red dye, a common fabric dye, from polluted water. To their delight, their filter worked, proving that this biodegradable and common agricultural waste product just might be the perfect material to make local water safe to drink. 


Avoiding Landfills with Shresto Pads 
Growing up in Pakistan and Bangladesh opened Saliha's (15) eyes to the sheer volume of waste being generated by these densely populated areas, leading her community to host some of the world's largest landfills. Determined to find a solution to cut down on non-biodegradable waste, Saliha turned to a common personal hygiene item: sanitary pads. With the local economy booming with the sanitary industry, she knew it was only a matter of time before landfills would become overwhelmed with these products, which contain plastics and harmful chemicals. So, Saliha created a safer, chemical-free option made entirely of plant materials that will degrade in just two year's time. She hopes her new "Shresto" pads will help more local women feel comfortable while also making the environment safer for everyone.

Airin (17) hails from Kerala, India, a region known for beautiful tropical beaches and agriculture, specifically tea, coffee, and spice plantations. Given his community's dependence on farming, Airin was intrigued by a question: could he create a better greenhouse that could produce extra crops sustainably and remain safe for the environment? For his project, he created a greenhouse that recycles 100% of the carbon dioxide it produces. His design proved successful, quadrupling crop yields while also using less power, water, and money. Airin believes his greenhouse can help Kerala farmers increase their harvests and income while sparing the local air from pollution.

In Shanghai, where temperatures can drop severely in winter due to Siberian winds, pipes can often freeze and burst, disrupting the community's access to water for hours or days at a time. While identifying a frozen pipe before it bursts is one path to solving the problem, Ying (17) realized it was more important to identify a pipe that was about to freeze and adjust water temperatures before they become critical. She set herself the task of creating an engineering solution to monitor local pipes that can automatically send electrical currents to adjust water temperatures as needed. Ying hopes her design will help her local community avoid plumbing disasters during the coldest time of year.


AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST 
Rolin (15) of Cameroon is passionate about science and wants to modernize his rural community, which is located 20km from the capital of Yaoundé. In rural locations like Zamengoe, where he attends school, Rolin shook his head to still see so many people trekking miles to charge their cell phones. Even worse, many locals are still forced to rely on dangerous and expensive oil lamps to light their homes at night. Seeking a solution to keep his community connected to power without breaking the bank or causing fires, he built portable solar kits that are simple to construct and cheap to make. He even trained people in his town to create their own kits so they'll never go without basic power! He believes he can help more Cameroon communities enjoy energy safely while improving their quality of life with his new creation.



In Lusaka, Zambia, family involvement in local politics has made Mphatso (18) keenly interested in reducing poverty in his community. As Southern Africa struggles to recover from its worst drought in decades, farmers are seeing their crops destroyed due to El Nino weather changes, leading to famine for millions. Without crops, farmers can't make a living, making it harder than ever for them to pay for the farming supplies they need to keep their farms fertile and their families thriving. To help local farmers find low-cost, affordable solutions for pesticides and fertilizers, Mphatso investigated alternative ways of generating the supplies farmers need. He created a simple, portable production station that requires basic cooking materials like charcoal and local plant leaves from the ground. Based on his methods, Mphatso believes farmers can save hundreds of British Pounds in costs, saving ~50% on fertilizers and ~80% on pesticides to help them produce better, more abundant crops.



No More Thirsty Crops
Kiara (16) lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, which like other nearby countries, is suffering from the worst drought the region has seen in over 20 years. Kiara believes that a critical solution to long term water needs is a special material that can hold hundreds of times their weight in water while stored within soil. Typically, these materials are man-made and filled with harmful chemicals that are both non-biodegradable and too expensive for local farmers to afford. Kiara found an ideal material that won't hurt the budget in the simple orange peel, and through her research, she created a way to turn them into soil-ready water storage with help from the avocado. Kiara hopes this low-cost material can reduce juice manufacturing waste while helping local farmers save both money and their crops.

Himanshi (17) and Richa (17) of the science duo 'Higgs Bosons' live in Nairobi, Kenya. The pair know that like Nairobi, much of Africa is dependent on unreliable hydro-generated power. Alternative energies are expensive and hard to access, leaving many Africans struggling with a poorer quality of life and health care. Dedicated to careful research and answering life's problems with science, the students designed a new way to create power using an advanced 'periscope-derived energy device. A new take on solar and steam energy, this device channels heat from the sun through a convex lens, intensifying the energy received and using it to create steam in a nearby reservoir. Higgs Bosons believes this easy-to-assemble, affordable solution could be the answer to energy problems for communities across Africa.




In Cairo, Egypt, Sara (18), Nourhan (17), and Asmaa (17) were shocked to realize that a significant number of citizens suffer from disabilities yet receive little governmental support or resources to help improve their quality of life. In particular, people who are deaf and hard of hearing struggle to connect with the hearing community, who do not always have the patience to learn sign language. This trio worked together to create a glove that translates hand signals into letters and speech, helping the wearer to communicate more easily. The young women hope that their invention will be another powerful tool for people who are deaf and hard of hearing to navigate more easily through life.




EUROPE

Ilya (16) began exploring engineering and robotics at a young age in his home city of Moscow, Russia. When he saw a gap in affordable tools for people who are visually-impaired, he began creating a wearable 'radar' accessory that can identify nearby obstacles through vibration signals. After receiving feedback on his initial design from people who were blind or visually-impaired in his community, he created a second, lighter prototype that is even easier to wear. Embedded into a common baseball cap, this system alerts wearers to the specific direction of obstacles within 3.5m using gentle vibrations. This gives the wearer plenty of time to adjust their direction of movement, so they can safely reach their destination. Given its low production cost, Ilya hopes to see his device improve the quality of life for the visually-impaired in his community.

Tarik (17) and Amor (16), of Sarajevo, Bosnia, have seen first hand how massive floods throughout Bosnia in May 2014 caused harmful lead contamination in local soil and drinking water. Eager to find a cost-effective way to create clean water for growing crops using a cheaper material that's also close at hand, the pair discovered that the white mustard plant, which is native to Bosnia and Herzegovina, is especially talented at absorbing lead. The plant is also of course biodegradable, creating a simple and very accessible way for their community to make local water safe again.



A native of Istanbul, Turkey, Esra (13) was concerned about how difficult it can be for locals and visitors to access clean drinking water without worrying about lead contamination in highly industrialized areas. Most visitors are advised to drink bottled water, and to avoid getting tap water in their mouths when taking showers or brushing their teeth! Inspired to create a new filtering solution that can help people avoid this problem, Esra investigated the use of mussel shells as a filtering device. His work showed that mussel shells are ideally suited to absorbing lead from soil and water and plentiful. Luckily, they also cost very little. Esra hopes to introduce this filtering option to his local community to create clean water for everyone.





Alex (18) lives in Athens, Greece. Fascinated by the intersection between robotics, software design, and the internet, he wanted to create the ultimate solution to solving health problems "in the cloud." In thinking about who needs health care the most, he realized that many people can't afford to visit a hospital or are physically too far away to access quality health care. Particularly for critical situations where a patient needs surgical care urgently, Alex wondered: wouldn't the world be a better place if a surgeon could treat their patient safely from thousands of miles away? To solve this, Alex built a robot and manually coded software that could control the robot remotely from any internet-enabled device. Through software and mechanical engineerings, Alex has created a platform that enables medical professionals to help patients wherever they are in the world, at any time.



İlayda (15) and Ezgi (15) live in İzmir, Turkey. The 7.1 earthquake that hit Turkey in 2011 claimed over 600 lives, and local scientists predict that the next decade could bring even more damage as tension continues to build along the North Anatolian Fault line. Given that many of Turkey's buildings are older, scientists have appealed to officials to help the country retrofit its buildings and train city workers to handle a potential earthquake disaster that could claim thousands of lives. Inspired to help, İlayda and Ezgi sought an affordable way to retrofit local buildings in their community with an easily available material: aluminium cans. The pair designed a solution that can be used to fill traditional concrete walls, increasing their ability to absorb impact damage from 32% to 61%. The students look forward to helping their community stay safe should an earthquake happen in the future.