MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—The finalists are here, the exhibits are on display and now it is up to the judges to pick a winner. Given the quality and breadth of the 15 finalist projects in the inaugural Google Science Fair, choosing the top entrant is an unenviable task.
The event is an online, global version of the good old student science fair, and it drew thousands of entries from 90 countries. (Scientific American is a partner in the Google Science Fair.) The 15 finalists, divided into three age groups, hail from the U.S., Singapore, South Africa, India and Canada. Some of them are just beginning their high school education; others are preparing to head off to college in the fall.
At Google headquarters today, the finalists each set up a display to show off their projects. But there wasn’t a tri-fold foamboard in sight—the competitors had flat-panel displays, scale models and prototypes on hand to help communicate their work. Anand Srinivasan, a finalist in the 13–14 age group from Atlanta, showed how a noninvasive EEG device can operate a prosthetic arm. Luke Taylor of Cape Town, South Africa, another finalist in the 13–14 group, demonstrated a program he built to allow users to command a robot simply by typing in natural-language English commands.
Given the setting at the home of one of the world’s most famous tech companies, it was perhaps fitting that programming and computer technology played a large part in the Google Science Fair finalist projects. And the finalists held their own with the passing techies. Vighnesh Shiv, a finalist in the 17–18 age group from Portland, Ore., designed a computer system to isolate and analyze frequencies in music—for instance, to identify specific musical instruments. (Shiv himself is a rock’n’roll fan who plays guitar, among other instruments.) He ably answered every question posed to him by a group of passing Google employees, including one about where he will attend college in the fall. When Shiv said that he is headed to Caltech, one Googler simply replied, “That makes sense.”
But biology and medicine were also well-represented fields. Dora Chen, a finalist in the 15–16 age group from Oxford, Miss., designed a memory-aid system for people with dementia, which would record interactions with others and attempt to isolate important pieces of those interactions using facial recognition and auditory cues. Lauren Hodge, a finalist in the 13–14 group from Pennsylvania, compared the effects of grilled-chicken marinades on the formation of carcinogenic compounds. (She was inspired by a lawsuit about carcinogens in grilled chicken that was filed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine against several chain restaurants.) Lemon juice and salt water were good options for inhibiting the formation of carcinogens, Hodge found, whereas soy sauce was not as good. Unfortunately, she said, soy sauce also produced the best-tasting chicken.
Each of the entrants met with the panel of judges today, which includes Scientific American editor in chief Mariette DiChristina, Google’s Internet evangelist Vint Cerf, inventor Dean Kamen and CERN director general Rolf-Dieter Heuer. At the gala event tonight the judges will announce a winner in each age group as well as a grand prize winner, who receives a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic Adventures (National Geographic is also a partner in the science fair), a $50,000 scholarship and a number of other prizes.
To find out which of the finalists will take home the grand prize, tune in to the streaming video from the awards ceremony at 10:00 P.M. EDT. We will host the video stream on our site beginning shortly before the event.