When nearly 1,800 of the brightest young minds on the planet gather in one place to share ideas and inspiration for the future, let’s just say, bring your Oakleys.
It is Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) week in Los Angeles, and the convention center is packed with young brainiacs from more than 70 countries, regions and territories around the globe who have earned their chance to compete at the world’s largest pre-college science fair and vie for a piece of the more than $5 million in awards and scholarships.
Each of these young innovators is already a winner, having garnered prizes at local, regional and national competitions for original – and often, groundbreaking – research.
Looking around the convention center floor, it’s easy to see how this group has made it to the pinnacle of the high school science fair circuit.
Determined to reduce manmade destruction of the ozone layer, Sidra Riaz, 16, Karachi, Pakistan, developed a high-tech environmental protection filter (EPF) which – when placed on factory chimneys – uses a cooling process to turn harmful gases into liquids and trap them in a containment chamber instead of releasing them into the atmosphere.
Concerned about a one-size-fits-all approach to treating medical patients based on diagnosis alone, which is ineffective for many people, Yousuf Soliman, 17, San Diego, California, developed a computer platform that uses artificial intelligence to compare data from genetic testing, medical images, clinical notes and health histories to give patients more personalized treatment.
And Matthew Hileman, 17, of Manchester, Connecticut? This wunderkind built an ion propulsion system – wait for it – in his basement. He plans to use the propulsion system, which uses electricity to ionize gases, to propel his homemade CubeSat, a small satellite about the size of a tissue box, into space.
In other words, the competitors at Intel ISEF? They are the brightest bulbs in the box.
But as any one of them can tell you, Intel ISEF is so much more than just a competition.
It is a week-long celebration of science, technology, engineering and math, and it is one heck of a lot of fun.
From the annual pin exchange, where students bring lapel pins from their hometowns and countries to trade with new friends, and the flag-waving opening ceremony which celebrates the common interests of this diverse crowd, to symposia on how to use the latest tech to extend the reach of one’s research or how to conceive of innovations to solve the problems of the next century, it’s a nerd-fest of gigantic proportions. Plus, they get to meet Nobel laureates, interact with distinguished professions in their fields of interest and meet like-minded peers, many of whom will pursue similar career tracks and become lifelong friends.
“Intel ISEF has been one of the best experiences of my life, if not the best,” says Frank Baleno, 15, Columbia, Maryland, who is in LA this week to present a computer science project.
“We try to make it fun,” says Shelly Esque, VP of Intel Corporate Affairs and Chairman of the Intel Foundation. “We see Intel ISEF as a way to reward these young people for their hard work. They are taking on challenging problems and coming up with innovative solutions that are going to make all of our lives better. And we want to do everything we can to support them and encourage them to pursue STEM careers, and ultimately, to inspire innovation all over the globe.”
The future looks bright, indeed.
Get updates, photos and live Webcast of the Intel ISEF Awards Ceremony here to see who wins the top prizes this year.