American Teen Girl Wins The 2015 Google Science Fair With Ground-Breaking Ebola Virus Test

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By now we’re all familiar with the story of Texas teen Ahmed Mohamed who was arrested for bringing a home-made clock to school. The story was trending all around the country, even President Obama got in on the action, tweeting his support for the young scientist encouraging his brilliant mind and shutting down bigots.

“Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great,” tweeted POTUS.

“I built a clock to impress my teacher but when I showed it to her, she thought it was a threat to her. It was really sad that she took the wrong impression of it,” Ahmed told reporters.

The thing is, because Ahmed happens to be Muslim, the school assumed he was making some sort of a bomb. Since his story got the attention of media and everyday citizens, many were outraged at the reaction, crying “racism” and scientists, engineers and other people in powerful STEM roles, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, showed public support.

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Ahmed has since left that school, and plans to go to MIT in the future. The story caught our attention and saddened us that in 2015 in the most powerful country on earth, a 14 year old boy is not praised for his ingenuity signifying the hope we can have in future generations, instead he is shot down because people are far too scared with the fearful images projected in the media of certain skin types, religions and backgrounds.

We’re pretty sure Ahmed’s father did not migrate from Sudan for his son to put up with this kind of treatment!

Nevertheless, it has awakened many of us to how important it is to foster the passions of younger generations, especially in the STEM fields (science, tech, engineering and math). Coincidentally, Ahmed’s incident happened right before the annual Google Science Fair was being held in California. The young whiz kid was invited to the event and unlike the treatment he got at his highschool the day he brought his home-made clock to school, the kids and adults present at the fair totally geeked out over Ahmed!

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It was the perfect setting to finally give the young kid the kudos he deserves, and he certainly wasn’t the only one to receive such praise.

Teens from all over the world enter this prestigious event every year, and the winners from the top 9 categories represented countries such as India, Singapore, France and the United States. We also love that there was a pretty even split of male-female winners, proving the huge presence girls have despite science overwhelmingly being a male-dominated industry around the world.

The overall winner was American 16 year-old Olivia Hallisey who developed a ground-breaking Ebola virus test that is cheap, fast and stable. It allows results to be shown as soon as 30 minutes after the test is taken, and can potentially show signs of the virus even before symptoms start to show.

The Connecticut high-schooler came up with the idea after seeing the devastating news of the outbreak in West Africa in 2014, and was frustrated by the limited tests that were available at the time. What medical professionals were using took up to 12 hours to detect the virus, by which an infected person could potentially die. The current testing kits also cost up to $1000.

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Early diagnosis and proper medical care are critical to containing and eliminating the spread of Ebola and any other contagious illnesses,” said Olivia about her project, according to A Mighty Girl media.

Her test would only need saliva, and the testing model could also be used to detect signs of HIV, Lyme disease, yellow fever, dengue fever, as well as certain types of cancers. Olivia hopes her invention will help scientists and the medical community find ways to prevent and sure other epidemic diseases.

Nothing exists in isolation. What affects one country affects everyone. We have to work together to find answers to the enormous challenges that threaten global health, our environment and our world,” she told the media.

The other female winners of the Google Science Fair include Indian girl Lalita Prasida Sripada Srisai, 13, who took home the Community Impact Award. She developed a low-cost bio-absorbent based water purifier which uses waste corn cobs as key ingredient. She received $10,000 USD to further develop her project, which she believes will make a huge difference in rural areas of India.

Aydan Meydan, a teacher from Bosnia-Herzegovina was the first person to ever receive the inaugural Inspiring Educator Award. In a video outlining her brilliant influence on the kids in her school, a couple of girls talk about how they already know science is a male-dominated industry but seeing a passionate and knowledgeable teacher like Aydan teach them about science and math means she is a powerful role model.

The 4th female winner was Deepika Kurup, a 14 year-old from New Hampshire who was inspired by family trips to India as a kid to develop a water purification system that uses sunlight to clean water. It was this invention which won her the America’s Top Young Scientist award in 2012.

“When on vacation in India, I witnessed the sight of children drinking dirty water from a stagnant pool. I instantly knew I had to do something about the global water crisis,” she said about her invention. Similar to Lalita’s idea, Deepika became aware of how lack of clean drinking water can lead to many other diseases in poverty-stricken rural areas of India and other developing nations.

According to ChildrensPrize.org, Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old, and 90% of deaths are due to unsafe water, sanitation, and hygiene, and is made worse by health problems that affect many children in third world countries.

Currently, one of the most common ways to purify water is to use chlorine, which Deepika didn’t like. So she came up with a way of using a photocatalyst — a substance that reacts with water’s impurities when energized by the sun — that also filters the water. The combination of the reaction and the filtration can remove most contaminants for a fraction of the cost of chlorine purification. She determined that her system reduces the presence of coliform bacteria by 98% immediately after filtration and by 100% within 15 minutes. Another advantage is that her catalyst is reusable.

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“A catalyst doesn’t get used up in the reaction. Theoretically you can keep using my composite forever,” she said in an interview.

Deepika’s invention has been getting plenty of attention over the past few years. Aside from winning the Top Young Scientist award as mentioned above, she was also awarded the 2013 President’s Environmental Youth Award and the 2014 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize, and she was named one of Forbes Magazine’s 2015 “30 Under 30 in Energy.

It’s pretty inspiring to see how a group of young men and women are literally changing the world with their talents, and proving that scientific skill has no age barrier.

People like Ahmed Mohamed, Deepika Kurup, Olivia Hallisey and many others in the global scientific community deserve a voice to share the ground-breaking, and in some cases life-saving, projects they are working on, and we are glad Google is giving them a voice. We hope events like this will force any critics to recognize how important it is to foster these talents and skills if we ever hope to have a leading community of scientists and medical professionals.

We stand with Ahmed, Olivia, Deepika, Lalita, Aydan and many more!

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