Some of South Africa’s brightest young scientists jet off to the US this week to represent the country at the world’s largest high school science research competition, the 2011 Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF).

The nine youngsters will join more than 1 500 students from around the world at Intel ISEF, which takes place from 11 to 13 May in Los Angeles. They will compete for $3-million in awards and scholarships, and will also have the opportunity to network with fellow students, academia and sponsor companies.
Schalk Burger and Peter Raney, of St John’s College in Johannesburg, hope to catch the judges’ eye with their Evapo-Gravitational Generator, which they believe can revolutionise the global energy industry by producing clean, abundant energy from mineshafts. The system harnesses gravity and the core temperature of the earth to cool refrigeration liquid in a closed system, which passes over turbine blades and generates electricity.
“We wanted to develop an energy source that would be cost-effective and environmentally friendly,” say Burger and Raney. “Our generator is completely renewable, creates no pollutants and uses existing mine infrastructure.”
Also focusing on energy generation is Monique Gerber, of Hoërskool Waterkloof in Pretoria, whose project looks at ways of harvesting energy from mechanical motion – like the movement of a train over a track. “The results show it’s possible to transform mechanical vibration into electrical energy for immediate use and storage,” says Gerber.
Juan Snyman, of Southdowns College in Irene, created a user-friendly system for creating more secure online passwords. “Passwords on their own are not an ideal solution for authentication on the Internet,” says Snyman. “Most people’s passwords are too simple, or they use the same one for all web sites.”
Theunis Steyn, of Hoërskool Nelspruit, will present a project which suggests that it is economically viable to build and operate vacuum airships. “The challenge with an airship is that it needs to be strong enough to withstand atmospheric pressure, but light enough to be buoyant,” says Steyn.
Bishops in Cape Town also produced two finalists, Sebastiaan Remmelzwaal and Alessio Giuricich. Remmelzwaal’s project focuses on improving the food security in the Khayelitsha township in Cape Town by finding a sustainable and cost-effective fertiliser to enrich the area’s soil sufficiently for food gardening. Giuricich surveyed nearly 1 700 teenagers for his study into sugar dependence among adolescents.
Du Toit Viljoen, of Duineveld High in Upington, invented a new spanner to replace the common pipe wrench. “The problem with the common pipe spanner is that it is adjustable and applies force from only two sides onto the pipe. When the force is too great it can slip and damage the pipe. The safety pipe spanner applies force from four sides and grips tighter if force is increased, thus making it safer and more efficient,” says Viljoen.
Danielle Boer, from St Dominic's Academy in Newcastle, undertook a project to see if playing music in factories would increase worker productivity and mood. The findings? Playing music – especially rock music – generates clear and measurable increases in productivity.
Parthy Chetty, director of corporate affairs at Intel, says the standard of projects is clear evidence that South Africa is awash with innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs.
“In our increasingly global economy, curiosity, critical thinking and a strong foundation in maths and science are necessary for tomorrow’s workforce to compete for the high-tech jobs of the future. These young people show that curious minds coupled with inspiring and knowledgeable teachers are the foundation for world-changing innovation," says Chetty.