High school students from Southeast Asia protect the environment with inventions that challenge the status quo.
Did you know bamboo can be used to build artificial coral reefs? That mangosteen skin can be used to dye fabric, or that eggplant can be a battery source? How about having a refrigerator that does not require electricity, or plasticware made from fish scales?
And consider this industry changing research: the desalination process can become cheaper by harnessing solar energy.
These unusual but ingenious inventions came from Southeast Asia’s high school students who presented their research at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Each year, more than 1,700 high school students from over 70 countries and regions participate at the ISEF. It is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, with US$5 million in prizes.
These projects provide solutions to real-world challenges found in the communities that they come from. Here are six research works that have wowed judges at past ISEF events.
A fridge that does not run on electricity
The team built a “Green Refrigerant Box” that, instead of running on electricity, uses a hand-operated vacuum pump made from plastic soft drink bottles. The idea was conceived because the students’ hometown in rural South Sumatra frequently experiences blackouts, constantly shutting down electrical appliances.
Project Members: Muhtaza Aziziya Syafiq, Anjani Rahma Putri
Mangosteen skin as an environmentally-friendly dyeing material
Bio-waste materials such as mangosteen skin can be used as a mordant to dye cotton fabric, together with onion skin extract. The project not only replaced the usage of hazardous chemical mordants with bio-waste material, but also helped recycle bio-waste itself.
Project Members: Faye Jong Sow Fei
Using bamboo as artificial coral reefs
Students used bamboo as a cheaper and plentiful alternative to concrete to create artificial reefs to boost marine life at the Banate Bay fishing community. The students saw the project as a solution to overfishing in Banate Bay. When the residents found out about the project’s positive impact, they declared the project site a marine protected area.
Project Members: Julian Paolo (JP) Biyo, Hazel Hernandez, Paul Flores
Making batteries out of eggplants
A novel electrocatalyst made from Chinese eggplant can be used as batteries to power hybrid vehicles. The project has already outperformed a commercial catalysts in stability and longevity tests. It also proved that the process is environmentally friendly and inexpensive to produce. It could help make rechargeable zinc-air batteries safer, lighter and possess stronger energy density than lithium-ion batteries.
Project Members: Shannon Xinjing Lee
Replacing plastics with fish scales
The team presented its research on using fish scales to create plastic ware items such as bowls and plates, with no trace of fish odor. The team also found out that the material completely breaks down in about 28 days when buried in soil, and does not harm critters that live in the dirt. In comparison, conventional plastic products release toxins during the manufacturing process and during disposal.
Project Members: Pornwasu Pongtheerawan, Tanpitcha Phongchaipaiboon, Arada Sungkanit
A cheaper and sustainable desalination process
The team proposed using solar energy and vacuum techniques to power the desalination process. Conventional desalination methods are costly affairs as they tend to consume vast amounts of electricity and fuel. In contrast, solar energy is an inexhaustible and renewable energy source.
Project Members: Trung Bach Tran, Vinh Anh Vu, Trang Thi Quynh Bui
Rini Hasbi contributed to this article.