Youths tackle cancer, asthma for Google science fair (photos)

The winners of Google's first international science fair for young students beat out thousands of competitors with their research on ovarian cancer, carcinogens in chicken, and environmental contributors to asthma.

James Martin
1 of 11 James Martin/CNET

Google Science Fair 2011

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--After searching through more than 7,500 entries from more than 10,000 students in 91 countries, Google showed off the results of what they are calling the world's largest science fair, the inaugural Google Science Fair.

Looking for the brightest young scientists from around the world working on creative projects that are relevant to the world today, Google took submissions earlier this year from students aged 13-18, and invited 15 exceptional finalist to the Googleplex here this week for a gathering of young thinkers unlike any other, where they rubbed elbows with science luminaries, inventors, and Nobel Laureates.

At the awards dinner last night, which was broadcast live on YouTube, the winners of the Google Science Fair 2011 were announced. The grand prize winner was Shree Bose, whose project examined ovarian cancer and current treatment's resistance to the commonly used drug Cisplatin.

Lauren Hodge won the 13-14 age group for her project, which examined carcinogenic compounds found in grilled chicken; and Naomi Shah took the top prize in the 15- to 16-year-old category for her study of environmental factors contributing to asthma, rounding out an all-female group for the top three science projects.
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Students at Google Science Fair

From the thousands of entries, 60 global semifinalists were chosen, and judges then narrowed those down to the 15 finalists who are visiting Google's headquarters this week.

There, the 15 finalists presented their projects before a panel of acclaimed scientists including Nobel Laureates and tech industry visionaries. Judges selected a winner from each of three age categories and, finally, one grand prize winner.

The judging panel itself was made up of an impressive lineup: science communications expert Alice Bell; "father of the Internet" Vint Cerf; Mariette DiChristina, editor in chief of Scientific American; CERN Director General Rolf-Dieter Heuer; inventor Dean Kamen; Kary Mullis, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1993; Marion Nestle, author, professor, and expert on nutrition and public health; Google's director of research, Peter Norvig; Veena Sahajwalla, a professor at the University of New South Wales; urban planner Thomas Taha Rassam Culhane; marine biologist Tierney Thys; and anthropologist and geneticist Spencer Wells.
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Welcome to the Googleplex

In addition to international recognition and a Willy Wonka-like trip to the Googleplex as one of the 15 finalists, the grand prize winner received a $50,000 scholarship toward higher education; a personalized Lego color mosaic; a tour at either CERN, Google, the Lego Group, or Scientific American; and a 10-day trip to the famed Galapagos Islands through National Geographic Expeditions.

Traveling aboard National Geographic's remote explorer ship, the Endeavour, the grand prize winner will visit Darwin's legendary living laboratory, exploring some of the world's most famed and exotic scientific specimens.
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Lauren Hodge

After hearing of a lawsuit against fast food restaurants failing to comply with laws requiring them advise customers of health risks, Lauren Hodge devised a scientific project that displayed the concentration of the carcinogen phenylmethylimidazopyridine in grilled chicken when the variable marinades of lemon juice, brown sugar, olive oil, and salt water were used.

The dangerous compounds form when meat is grilled and proteins bond to form the PhIPs. Hodge found that lemon juice and brown sugar were most effective in decreasing the PhIP concentrations, and soy sauce increased the PhIP levels.

Hodge took the top prize in the 13-14 age group for the project.

Read about her project
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Naomi Shah's environmental study

Students look on as Naomi Shah describes her environmental study, which examined the connection between air pollution and exacerbations of illness in people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma.

Quantifying the effects of particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide on health, Shah developed a mathematical model to determine the specific effects of these pollutants, which can contribute to the deaths of more than 1.6 million people each year.

Read about Naomi's project
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Gavin Ovsak's water turbine

One energy project at the Google Science Fair was Gavin Ovsak's efficient water turbine.

Ovsak, 16, from Minnesota, designed a stackable turbine that rotates flat fins around an axis and changes their pitch to have the most drag at the top of a cycle and the least at the bottom.

Read about Gavin's project
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Luke Taylor's robots

Luke Taylor, a 15-year-old finalist from South Africa, demonstrates his project, which uses NXT robots to understand natural written English language phrases like "turn left and move forward for 5 seconds," potentially simplifying robotic programming.

Read about Luke's project
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Anand Srinivasan's prosthetics project

Students visiting the Google campus yesterday examine Anand Srinivasan's project, which examines the use of electroencephalography (EEG) and prosthetic technology to make a more functional artificial limb.

Using easily available, off-the-shelf EEG devices and OpenViBE, Srinivasan built an open-source program that interfaces with the brain and analyzes signal processing more accurately, better filtering the data to increase pattern detection accuracy, and thereby creating a more efficient and useable artificial limb.

Read about Anand's project
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Shaun Lim Hsien Yang's botany project

Shaun Lim Hsien Yang, from Singapore, presents his bio project. "The Botanical Battleground" examined the effect of ultraviolet light on the sunflower's production of chemical compounds that inhibit growth in other plants. He concluded that increasing global UV levels could stimulate allelochemical production, which could provide a natural herbicide against some unwanted plants.

Read about Shaun's project
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Vighnesh Leonardo Shiv's automatic music analysis

First attempted at Stanford in the 1970s, automatic music analysis is the automated extraction of relevant perceptual information such as notes and instruments from music files. Often, extraction requires complex and interdisciplinary analysis in order to extract layers of information such as musical notes, instruments, percussion, and emotion.

Vighnesh Leonardo Shiv, right, developed sinusoidal modeling algorithms that are three times the frequency resolution of the most recent published analysis.

Read about Vighnesh's project
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Michelle Guo

Michelle Guo's project on Alzheimer's Disease examined the effects cinnamon may have on treatment of the disease.

Read about Michelle's project

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