Teen’s “Flying Wing” Aircraft Wins Global Science Fair

Intel ISEF 2017

Germany’s Ivo Zell won the top prize at Intel ISEF 2017 for his “flying wing” aircraft, while runners-up awards honored a neural network that tracks space debris and a laser-based wireless network.

Five years ago in Lorch, Germany, then 13-year-old Ivo Zell got hooked on model planes. Intrigued by aeronautical design, he read everything he could on the subject. He discovered the work of the Horton Brothers – Walter and Reimar – two German pilots who designed a series of “flying wing” airplanes in the 1930s and early 1940s.

Though the Hortons’ work got sidetracked with WWII and its aftermath, Zell, now 18, couldn’t help but wonder why their designs had virtually disappeared.

Ivo Zell

“Flying wings stand out from conventional aircraft due to optimized aerodynamics and significantly lower fuel consumption,” Zell said. There were other challenges – stability, for example – but, still, Zell felt the basic design deserved another look.

As a result, Zell designed and constructed a prototype of a new, improved flying wing aircraft. This undertaking landed Zell first place, the Gordon E. Moore Award and $75,000 at this year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), the world’s largest pre-college science competition.

Flying Wing aircraft

Zell’s prototype features an unusual bell-shaped lift profile for improved stability, and the telemetry required to fly the wing.

Many flying wing aircraft are unstable in flight because they have little or no fuselage or tail, but Zell’s modified aircraft operates smoothly and safely in challenging flight situations, without significantly sacrificing fuel efficiency.

The Runners-Up

Two runners-up, Amber Yang, 18, of Windermere, Florida, and Valerio Pagliarino, 17, of Castelnuovo Calcea, Italy, received Intel Foundation Young Scientist Awards and $50,000 scholarships for research they presented at the event.

Tracking Space Junk

Probing potential applications for artificial intelligence, Yang developed a neural network capable of predicting the locations of space debris.

An estimated 500,000 pieces of trash orbit the planet and pose a potential hazard for spacecraft.

Amber Yang

Inspired after seeing media coverage about a satellite that China had exploded in space, Yang adapted an algorithm to train her artificial neural network to recognize specific debris clouds in space and, based on past trajectories, predict future locations.

Not only is Yang’s method novel in tracking space debris (mathematical models were used before), it also represents a new approach to the use of neural networks.

“Artificial neural networks have primarily been used for photo and image identification and classification,” said Yang. “They haven’t been applied to tracking and predicting kinematic motions and patterns before.”

As a result, applications are virtually limitless.

Yang has already expanded her work to other astronomy projects, such as tracking the trajectories of asteroids and comets. Additionally, her approach could be valuable in tracking rising sea levels as scientists work to combat global warming.

Connecting Global Communities

Valerio Pagliarino created a prototype of a laser-based, wireless, high-speed network to bring internet connectivity to remote locales.

He said his motivation for the project was born largely of frustration. Growing up in a small rural town in northwest Italy, Pagliarino frequently experienced difficulties in trying to connect to the internet.

Valerio Pagliarino

“Areas without good web access are disadvantaged,” he said, “and the problem becomes worse over time because the new web apps require more and more bandwidth.”

For this budding engineer, the status quo was unacceptable. So he worked to find a solution.

Using off-the-shelf components, Pagliarino designed and built a small laser-based network, which takes advantage of already existing infrastructure to deliver high speed connectivity.

“An internet connection is one of the most important resources not only for companies, but for all people,” said Pagliarino, who believes that his research may play a role in bridging the digital divide.

“Intel congratulates this year’s winners and all of the participants, who inspire us with their talent and passion for changing the world,” said Rosalind Hudnell, Intel vice president of Corporate Affairs and president of the Intel Foundation.

“As a diverse and inclusive group developing groundbreaking solutions to global challenges, these young people represent the next generation of innovators,” she said. “We’re proud to support all of the finalists as they endeavor to improve the world around them.”

The competition featured nearly 1,800 young scientists selected from 425 affiliate science fairs in 78 countries, regions and territories.

In addition to the top winners, approximately 600 finalists received awards and prizes for their innovative research, including 22 “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.

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