Prize-winning teens work to curb disease transmission in airplanes, prevent environmental damage from oil spills and improve HIV testing to save lives.
After seeing news coverage about recent Ebola outbreaks in the media, 17-year-old Raymond Wang, of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, was inspired to look into the science behind disease transmission.
And while poring through data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), he found a frightening statistic.
“According to the CDC,” Wang says, “if a guy has H1N1 and walks into an airplane cabin, he has the potential to spread the disease to 17 other passengers per flight.”
It was this disturbing fact that sent the budding engineer on a quest to figure out what was going on with airflow in a typical airplane cabin.
Employing a keen understanding of computational fluid dynamics, Wang created 32 computerized simulations to track the movement of pathogens in the airflow of a Boeing 737 cabin. He identified a way to alter airflow to improve the availability of fresh air by more than 190 percent, while reducing pathogen concentrations by up to 55 times, compared to conventional designs.
“I was able to leverage multiple technologies in my project,” says Wang, “including a workstation featuring Intel’s 8-core CPU and using Intel’s message-passing interface. As a result, I was able to increase and accelerate my solution process.”
Finally, he created a prototype of a device that could modify the airflow in the ventilation system of an existing aircraft in such a way that improved air quality and decreased the potential for disease transmission — at the rough cost of a ticket on a plane with 100 windows.
“Saving countless lives and trillions of dollars in the event of a future pandemic,” says Wang.
For this research, the budding engineer won top honors, the Gordon E. Moore Award and a $75,000 scholarship at the 2015 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF).
“Using high fidelity computational fluid dynamics modeling and representative physical simulations, Raymond Wang’s work has significantly enhanced our understanding of how disease-causing pathogens travel via circulating airflow in aircraft cabins,” said Scott Clary, an electromechanical engineering manager at Lockheed Martin and a judge at the competition. “His research has helped him to develop multiple approaches for reducing disease transmission in these types of settings.”
Two runners-up, Karan Jerath of Friendwood, Texas, and Nicole Sabina Ticea of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, received Intel Foundation Young Scientist Awards and $50,000 in college scholarships.
Motivated to find a solution after a devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico five years ago, Jerath, 18, redesigned a cofferdam (a containment enclosure) that rapidly and safely recovers itself in the event of a blowout.
Specifically, he developed a device to separate natural gas, oil and ocean water, while accommodating different water depths, pipe sizes and fluid compositions. Additionally, his design allows for the injection of warm nitrogen to prevent the formation of methane hydrate, which can clog a system — one of a number of issues encountered during the Gulf spill.
Through simulations, Jerath demonstrated that his cofferdam design has the potential to function on the sea bottom at depths where oil is being extracted.
To reduce transmission and deaths due to HIV in remote and economically challenged locales, 16-year-old Ticea developed a low-cost, easy-to-use testing device to quickly diagnose HIV infection.
Her invention — a self-contained microfluidic cartridge, which does not require electricity to operate — costs less than $5 to produce and requires only a small drop of blood to obtain a readout (making it ideal for testing newborn babies).
Unlike conventional enzyme-linked, immuno-sorbent assays based on an antibody response, Ticea’s approach is based on recognition of HIV RNA, and provides results in just 60 minutes.
Already, Ticea has founded a company to further develop her life-saving technology. The approach could be used to combat other diseases, such as malaria.
Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation said, “Intel believes young people are key to future innovation and that in order to confront the global challenges of tomorrow, we need students from all backgrounds to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math.”
Hawkins said, “We hope these winners will inspire other young people to pursue their interest in these fields and apply their curiosity, creativity and ingenuity to the common good.”
This year’s Intel ISEF involved more than 1,700 young scientists who advanced from 422 affiliate fairs in more than 75 countries, regions and territories around the globe.
In addition to the top winners, approximately 600 finalists received awards and prizes for innovative research, including 20 “Best of Category” winners, who each received a $5,000 prize.
The Intel Foundation also awarded a $1,000 grant to each winner’s school and to the affiliated fair they represent.