Some of the nation’s young brainiacs were honored today at the annual White House Science Fair. Every spring, the White House invites children to show off life-changing innovations that have mostly been constructed in MacGyver-like fashion from commercially available materials. Even though I cover this story every year, it’s hard not to be inspired by brilliant young kids motivated to tackle the world’s problems. “Let me just say in my official capacity as president, this stuff is really cool,” said President Obama.
We’ve rounded up three awesome and inspiring projects below:
1. A 3D-Printed, Mind-Controlled Prosthetic – 17-year-old Easton LaChappelle has created a mind-controlled prosthetic arm for the low price of $250, thanks to parts cheaply replicated from a 3D printer. In the Vine below, you can see the young lad using a commercial-grade, brain-wave-reading device, the Neurosky, to shake the robotic arm. LaChappelle explained to me that the prosthesis is controlled through a sophisticated system of blinks and thoughts. The Neurosky can measure different levels of concentration, as well as eye blinks. Two eye blinks, for instance, prime the arm for contraction, and the level of concentration controls the degree of contraction. The software is smart enough to learn a user’s daily patterns and make certain movements easier at specific times, such as eating lunch around noon.
2. Cancer Detection – Google Global Science Fair Winner, 17-year-old Brittany Wenger, found a low-cost way to radically increase early cancer detection. Wenger’s project utilizes a computer process modeled after the human brain, a neural network, to boost the accuracy of detecting cancer in skin samples to 99 percent, which could help doctors save lives through early treatment. The software lives in the cloud, so the more doctors feed data into it, the more accurate it gets.
“I came across artificial intelligence and was just enthralled. I went home the next day and bought a programming book and decided that was what I was going to teach myself to do,” she said. Since seventh-grade, this ambitious young scientist taught herself high-level artificial intelligence, mainly through the web and the help of available teachers.
3. Tactile sound – Eighth-grade Californian Jonah Kohn developed a tactile-sound device to help the hearing impaired enjoy music. Sound can actually travel through vibrations in the skin, which Kohn discovered when he decided to bite down on his electric guitar (remember what is was like to be young and experimental?). The discovery inspired Kohn to see if the same experience could aid the hearing impaired. “They were able to hum the melody of a song, even if they can’t hear it,” he told Bill Nye at the White House. Kohn said his project is related to a study that found a 93 percent increase in self-rated music quality of his hearing-impaired participants.
Many of the participants showed extraordinary fortitude and commitment to science. Sixteen-year-old Jack Andraka, who also developed a more accurate cancer-detection system, requested access to academic labs 99 times before he was granted permission. “I don’t know what you guys were doing in high school; that’s what Jack’s doing. Certainly better than I was doing in high school,” joked the president.
Obama also announced a new technology industry mentoring initiative with AmeriCorps, the U.S. 2020, where companies, such as Cisco, pledge that 20 percent of the workforce will spend at least 20 hours mentoring or teaching by the year 2020.
It’s been a crazy and disheartening week in the news. It’s good to be reminded that for as many setbacks as we face, the next generation is striving to make the world an even better place.
[Image: White House]