AsianScientist (Jun. 24, 2019) – From making medical technologies affordable to using food waste as an energy source, ingenious student projects in the Google Science Fair offer hope that the future of science is in safe hands.
Through family-friendly Maker Faires showcasing new inventions, the Maker Movement brings people of all ages into a do-it-yourself culture, turning passive users into active creators. Surely no one can get more thrilled than the youths of today, who, by getting an early taste of tech, may be inspired to become future scientists or even be compelled to start young.
“Every idea has the power to shape our world,” says the Google Science Fair, a global online science competition for students between ages 13 and 18 to propose innovative solutions to real world problems in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths. Unprecedented in bringing together the greatest young minds across different backgrounds who use science for social good, the competition also highlights students’ resourcefulness in creating technical projects even when faced with limited accessibility to research facilities.
20 teams of students, of which ten hail from Asia, will travel to the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California this July to present their projects to a panel of judges. Winners of the grand finals will receive up to US$50,000 in scholarship funding. We feature three promising projects from Asia in the global finals that tackle pressing societal issues with technology, against all odds.
Measuring blood sugar without a prick
For high school sophomore Celestine Wenardy, her research was inspired by the increasing prevalence of diabetes in her home country of Indonesia and the lack of relevant technology in local healthcare facilities. Common glucometers available require a finger prick which causes discomfort, and non-invasive ones are either expensive or less accurate. The British School Jakarta student proposed a glucometer that is affordable and allows for the regular monitoring of blood glucose concentration without drawing blood.
Wenardy’s glucometer incorporates two sensors. The first uses interferometry, which measures the difference in refractive index of skin tissue and interstitial fluid. A higher glucose concentration lowers the difference between the two indices. The second uses thermal technology—when transferred the same amount of heat, a higher glucose level will cause the skin to heat up faster, and the rate of heat change is measured by a thermistor.
In her proposal, Wenardy shared about her difficulties in sourcing for electrical components and testing her prototype. Encouraging fellow youths, she said, “It is not too early to start working towards your hopes and ambitions… if some girl can develop an award-winning device, you can make a change, too.”
Smarter diagnosis of heart disease
Heart disease is the top cause of death globally, with rural mortality rates surpassing those in urban areas as a shortage of doctors has led to primary care being mainly handled by unqualified practitioners. 14-year-old Sachin Singh from Bangalore, India, puts it down to the inability of untrained practitioners to diagnose abnormalities from cardiac auscultation (the process of listening to heart sounds). He aimed to bridge the lack of expertise by combining the latest technologies in cloud, mobile and artificial intelligence.
The student from Inventure Academy said his digital stethoscope costs less than 20 percent that of a professional stethoscope. Applying pre-processing algorithms, the mobile app captures heart sounds and slices the clip into uniform segments to be converted into spectrograms, whereby audio signals are represented in three-dimensional plots.
The spectrograms are processed by neural networks and classified as normal or abnormal, upon detection of signature patterns of murmurs and arrhythmia. According to Singh, his heart sound classification model and stethoscope have been validated to high accuracy with public datasets of heart sounds, and that his solution “can be an important step towards improving the dire state of rural healthcare in India and beyond.”
Powering up with food waste
The threat of climate change and rising demands for electricity globally have led to a search for new sources of renewable energy. One such source is microbial fuel cells (MFCs), bio-electrochemical devices that convert organic substrates, usually glucose, into electrical energy. Singaporean students Jenevieve Ho and Emma Tan found that using food waste as a substrate for MFCs could be a sustainable, low-cost alternative to glucose, tackling the global food waste issue at the same time.
As food waste contains many carbohydrates and is easily available, the National Junior College students used banana peels and the outer and inner layers of sugarcane sourced from hawker stalls and supermarkets. The materials were dried, blended into fine powder, and added into the buffer solution for each MFC setup.
Among the three types of food waste tested, they concluded that banana peels made the best substrate as it had the best voltage performance that was comparable to glucose. They also found that a higher reducing sugar concentration could increase the efficiency of MFCs. According to the duo, their food waste solution will take us “a step closer to making MFCs a more viable alternative energy source”, and contribute to the fight against climate change.
The Singapore team who submitted their idea of microbial fuel cells for the Google Science Fair.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Shutterstock.
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