High school students from more than 40 countries qualify for Intel ISEF by winning at affiliated regional fairs like the USEF. The chance to win a share of $3 million in prizes adds to the excitement at the event, but many students describe even bigger motivations—curing cancer, designing fuel- efficient vehicles, being the first to solve a mathematical problem, or helping the blind have greater access to information. To read about more entries visit Intel ISEF. Here is a just a small sampling of student projects on varying themes.
Student scientists who investigate issues in health and medicine are motivated by the chance to offer new solutions to health problems. Their research could improve and possibly even save lives.
Margaret Pere Jumonville, 15, a freshman at Saint Joseph's Academy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, focused her research on something that affects her own life. "I'm a singer, so I've always been concerned about abusing your voice. Singers make a habit of drinking water, but I wanted to find out if hydration really makes a difference." Her medicine and health project, "Got Abuse? Get Water! Vocal Abuses and Effects on Fundamental Frequency and Vocal Quality," included research in a computerized speech laboratory at Louisiana State University.
Jumonville studied vocal abuse among three test populations: singers, teachers, and children. "Vocal abuse is any action that's harmful to the vocal folds. Most singers are aware of this. Teachers suffer a lot of vocal abuse from talking all day long, and often in a loud voice. Children can abuse their voices by yelling on the playground." Once she learned how to use the specific computer programs that suited her research needs, Jumonville proceeded to measure and analyze five parameters related to frequency and amplitude. The findings surprised her. "I had a lot of problems with my singers. They didn't follow the patterns. Because I'm a singer, I know that they can control their voice, especially when it's under stress. It turns out that singers were not experiencing as much vocal abuse as a teacher would from talking in a loud voice throughout the day." Child subjects showed a measurable increase in vocal abuse by the end of the school week. Her conclusion? "Vocal abuse does harm vocal folds, and hydration is proven to help restore the folds to relatively normal function. So getting in the habit of drinking water every day would help to ward off vocal abuse."
Improving the quality of life for people living with physical challenges is the goal that motivates many young scientists, engineers, and inventors.
Blake Price, 17, a junior at Happy High School in Happy, Texas, became interested in the health risks that falling poses to older people after his science teacher's grandparent suffered a broken hip as a result of a fall. His engineering project, "The Lift Assist: Second Edition," uses mechanical engineering and electronics to provide a solution.
Using Price's prototype, a person grabs onto two levers, pushes a button to start the battery-powered motor, and is slowly pulled to an upright position. The device can be used with any type of seat, including a soft couch. Unlike existing lift-chair devices, which propel users out of their seats, Blake's product continues to offer support once the user is standing. "If an older person is medicated, he or she might have trouble with balance. This gives them time to get steady." The motorized levers also offer assistance to users who lack upper-body strength.
Price did user testing with his target audience and continued modifying his design to make improvements. "I was concerned about ergonomics and wanted to be sure my product would be safe." The best part of the process, he said, "is the chance to make something new that solves real problems."
Many students turn their attention to a wide range of environmental topics—from the reforestation of a landfill to alternative energy sources to the dangers posed by road salt.
For Arthur J. Petron, 18, a senior at Dallastown Area High School in York, Pennsylvania, risk-taking is part of the process of invention. "If you're not taking a risk, you're not going anywhere," he said. For his engineering project, "Hydrocarbon Production Through Electrical Ionization," he designed a chamber filled with hydrogen gas to produce synthetic hydrocarbons—an idea that could generate an alternative energy source.
Petron initially considered working on the design of hydrogen fuel cells, "but then I decided to approach the problem more directly. Creating an alternative source like this would decrease our dependency on other countries for petroleum-based fuels, and could have environmental and economic benefits."
One of his biggest challenges was finding a lab willing to let him run tests. "My experiment is kind of volatile," he admits, given that it involves hydrogen gas and electric sparks. A researcher at York College finally agreed to give him lab time. "His only condition was that whenever I did a combustion trial, I had to tell him in advance." Petron's most satisfying research moment? "Putting the chamber in the hood, turning it on, and not having it blow up."
His dream career, Petron says, is becoming a researcher with his own lab. "I could spend as much time as I want there and come up with new things."