Science fair projects are thought to be the dominion of vinegar and baking soda volcanoes, but some kids take things far above and beyond. Here are 11 of the most impressive science fair projects ever.
1A Font That Could Save Millions of Dollars -- Suvir Mirchandani
You may not think much about the cost of ink when you go to print a document or receive a flyer, but it can cost big businesses thousands, if not millions, of dollars a year. A middle school student from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania named Suvir Mirchandani wanted to come up with a way to save his school money when he realized that printer ink is twice as expensive as French perfume, so he figured out a way to use less ink in school printouts. He compared the ink used by four different fonts – Garamond, Times New Roman, Century Gothic and Comic Sans, then printed out an enlarged version of the main vowels and weighed each printout to compare the amount of ink used on each sheet. He concluded that if his school switched to Garamond they could save over twenty thousand dollars a year in ink alone.
Once Suvir had made this startlingly simple discovery, he applied the same principle to the U.S. federal government, and found that simply changing the font used in their printouts could save them over a hundred million dollars a year!
His science fair project became quickly known and he was soon interviewed by CNN, NBC and the American media.
2Nuclear Fusion Reactor -- Thiago David Olsen
We may be decades away from large scale nuclear fusion technology becoming a reality, but one teen proved that it's closer than previously thought when he created his own nuclear fusion reactor in his garage.
15-year-old Thiago Olsen dedicated a year to research and another year to actually building the device, and since he had no engineering know-how, he basically started from scratch, earning his place alongside the mere 20 amateurs worldwide known to have built their own fusion device.
Although the device creates energy by fusing atoms, it has been deemed safe by radiation officials, and barely generates enough energy to warm a cup of coffee. However, with Thiago's discovery comes renewed hope that a renewable, clean energy source is within reach.
3Mind Controlled Prosthetic Limb Project -- Anand Srinivasan
Even though 15-year-old Anand Srinivasan had been entering – and winning – science fairs since he was in kindergarten, he'd never worked on a project as important, or useful, as the one he entered into the 2012 White House Science Fair. Anand created a better functioning prosthetic arm that can be controlled by thought alone.
The teen took a variety of university courses online in order to gain the skills necessary to complete his project, and built his own robotic arm which responds to electrical signals from the brain, determining which signals to use by mapping them all with an EEG machine.
Anand didn't perfect the technology, but the fact that he got the arm to respond to electrical impulses from his brain proved it can be done, and may have moved the technology one step closer to perfection.
4Chemical-Sniffing LEGO Robot -- Anna Simpson
High school student Anna Simpson has decided to further the cause of helping to fight terrorism, by creating a chemical detecting robot for Intel's International Science and Engineering Fair in 2009.
The budding engineer built a mobile (and autonomous) robot out of LEGO bricks and relatively simple electrical parts. It is able to detect and react to chemical spills using a porous silicone chip that changes color when it comes in contact with a volatile organic compound.
Anna's goal is to make it possible for law enforcement, security and counter-terrorism personnel to safely detect chemicals from a distance, and since her creation is even more sensitive than Anna initially intended, this technological innovation might become the standard in chemical detection around the world.
5Plastic-Eating Microbe -- Daniel Burd
Plastic waste is one of the worst problems for by waste management companies, and because plastic takes thousands of years to deteriorate, we're running out of space for all our trash. Enter Daniel Burd and his amazing plastic eating microbe, a scientific discovery he entered into the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Ottawa, Ontario which may lead to global changes in how we deal with our trash.
Daniel theorized that even though it takes plastic over 1,000 years to decompose, it does eventually do so, which means there must be microbes eating away at the plastic. He devised a way to speed up the microbial decomposition of the plastic using a compound that contains yeast (among other things), and isolates of the most productive microorganisms. His final product resulted in 43% degradation of plastic in just six weeks, a vast improvement over the natural plastic decomposition rate and a possible hope for dealing with our ever growing global trash problem.
6Space Exploration Balloon -- IES La Bisbal School
Going to space used to be a big deal, and cost millions if not billions of dollars, but some students from the IES La Bisbal School in Catalonia, Spain proved that all it really takes is a latex weather balloon and a lot of patience.
Four students and their teacher created a protective rig, housing an electronic sensor and a Nikon Coolpix camera, which they attached to the latex balloon and let fly. They hoped it would reach a height of 30, 000 feet just like commercial aircraft, but their balloon rig far exceeded expectations, and soared over 100,000 miles into the atmosphere, reaching the edge of outer space before losing inflation and falling to the ground below.
Team Meteotek were able to take some amazing pictures from way up high, and proved that it doesn't take fancy equipment or expensive gear to make it into outer space.
7Image-Based Search Engine -- David Liu
Not all scientific advances deal directly with saving lives or grand scale exploration, some projects are simply created to make our lives better. In the case of David Liu's image based search engine, his contribution to science will make our online lives easier, and make image searching a reality. David devised a way to program AI to search through large image collections and categorize these images automatically, which he calls Semantic Image Retrieval and Interactive Exploration of Large Image Collections. This cutting edge way to search through thousands of images at a time won him second place at the Intel Science Talent Search competition in 2010.
8Nuclear Weapon Detector -- Taylor Wilson
Teenager Taylor Wilson was tired of living in fear of nuclear bombs. He felt like our armed forces needed a better way to detect such weapons, so he created a handy nuclear weapon detector in his garage.
The 17-year-old created a device that scans cargo like an X-ray, revealing any materials or fingerprints which have been exposed to radioactive materials, and it's powered by a nuclear fusion reactor that Taylor built when he was only fourteen years old! Taylor debuted his device at the Intel International Science Fair in 2011, and with 35 million cargo containers passing through customs every year, it's a sure bet will be put to good use.
9Teaching Robots To Speak English -- Luke Taylor
Robots have come a long way since the days of Robbie from Lost In Space. Their clunky outdated counterparts are quickly being replaced by robots that move like living beings, can solve problems on their own, and may someday be able to think and speak, thanks to artificial intelligence.
For now, we need an efficient way to tell robots what we'd like them to do, and South African High school student Luke Taylor came up with an interesting system that teaches robots how to understand verbal commands. Luke's software allows him to give the robot commands in English, which the robot's onboard memory translates into code, thus allowing it to be commanded by voice. There are a few verbal command systems being developed these days, but for a 15-year-old to have devised such a clever system, it's quite an accomplishment.
10Managing The Power Of Household Devices -- Ankush Gupta
Our electronic devices are responsible for sucking up power, and raising our overall carbon footprint on a daily basis. However, while they sit their plugged in and awaiting use, there's no reason for them to continue drawing power. Enter the concept of Domotics- the use of electronic techniques to manage household devices, an energy saving idea that was first developed in the 1990s and was also the concept behind Ankush Gupta's entry into the 2011 Google Science Fair.
Ankush's algorithm for intelligent power management showed a 20% reduction in overall usage when put into use at local businesses. Because it can also be controlled with a smartphone, Ankush's software may someday be the standard in-home energy usage control.
11Spacecraft Navigation Software -- Erika DeBenedictis
Even though she'd never been to space, 18-yea-old Erika DeBenedictis had always been fascinated by NASA programs, and the idea of traveling into the great unknown.
Erika devised an updated method of calculating the gravitational influence of planets and how they move, which will allow for the charting of easy transit routes through the solar system. Her interstellar mapping system won her the first place prize – and $100,000 grand prize – at the Intel Science Talent Search contest.