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Young scientists show the way

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Teenager Han Jie (Austin) Wang, an 18-year-old from Vancouver, Canada, is the recipient of the first place Gordon E Moore Award and $75 000 for developing microbial fuel cells (MFCs) that more efficiently convert organic waste into electricity.
The award was given at this year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which is the world’s largest high school science research competition.
Wang identified specific genes in genetically enhanced E. coli bacteria that enabled them to generate power efficiently. His system can produce significantly more power than existing MFC processes at a cost that is competitive with solar energy, which he believes will make MFCs commercially viable.
Syamantak Payra, 15, of Friendswood, Texas, received one of two Intel Foundation Young Scientist Awards of $50 000, for developing a low-cost electronically-aided knee brace that allows an individual with a weakened leg to walk more naturally. When Payra tested his prototype with two individuals partially disabled by polio, it almost immediately restored a more natural gait and increased mobility.
Kathy Liu, 17, of Salt Lake City, Utah, received the other Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award of $50 000 for developing an alternative battery component that could significantly improve battery performance and safety. Liu’s rechargeable battery is smaller and more lightweight, without the risk of fire inherent in lithium-ion batteries, which are used in planes, mobile phones and even hoverboards.
“Intel congratulates this year’s winners and hopes that their work will inspire other young innovators to apply their curiosity and ingenuity to today’s global challenges,” says Rosalind Hudnell, vice-president: human resources and director of Corporate Affairs at Intel, and president of the Intel Foundation. “This international science and engineering exhibition is an excellent example of what can be achieved when students from different backgrounds, perspectives and geographies come together to share ideas and solutions.”
The 2016 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair featured more than 1 700 young scientists selected from 419 affiliate fairs in 77 countries, regions and territories, including seven from South Africa.
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.
Brynn Cauldwell, a Grade 11 pupil from St Stithians Boys’ College in Johannesburg, received an award in the category of Environmental Engineering, sub-category Water Resource Management. Each winning project in this category will receive $3 000 in shares of United Technologies common stock.
His project focused on finding sustainable solutions for acid mine drainage. In conclusion, it was found that running water over concrete was the most effective way to raise the pH of water to a level where the water was usable for the irrigation of crops and plants.
Some of the other projects spearheaded by young South African scientists include using recycled and organic materials for energy, and safe disposal of household mercury containing compact fluorescent light bulbs.
Aryan Mootheeram, a Grade 11 pupil from Ladysmith KwaZulu Natal, used recycled and organic materials to create a fuel source that can be used for space heating by people living in rural areas who do not have access to, or have limited access to electricity.
The fuel used recycled and organic materials easily sourced in rural areas in South Africa and was designed to be comparable in heat performance to traditional anthracite coal.
With compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs not being disposed of in an environmentally safe manner, Marcolyn Arumugam, a Grade 12 pupil from Durban, KwaZulu Natal, designed and built an environmentally safe household CFL bulb disposal system that aimed to remove toxic mercury from the bulb.