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Science Wednesday: Picking a Winner

2011 June 15

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Mike Gill

I almost said no when I was asked to be a judge at the 2011 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). What a mistake that would have been!

I work in EPA’s Region 9 office in San Francisco. I was joined at ISEF by colleagues Ned Black, also from San Francisco, and Melissa Anley-Mills from Washington, DC.

Our goal was to find the project that best promoted environmental restoration, preservation and sustainability to receive the EPA Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award. We had the opportunity to review many worthy projects and hopefully encourage the kids to pursue a lifetime of scientific curiosity and even study environmental science and engineering. And what talent they have!

It was tough knowing that out of all the brilliant kids, we could only pick one winner. 299 out of the total 1500 projects fell under our categories of interest, which included environmental management and environmental sciences. From these, we narrowed it down to 59 posters to review on Day 1 (sans kids) and then 10 “semi-finalists,” who we interviewed on Day 2.

Two things that met the goal of sustainability for us were using “re-purposed” materials (leftovers), and when it was clear that the students considered the complete life cycle of their project. It was important that projects try to avoid any unintended consequences. In addition, the simpler a project was, the more elegant it tended to be—such as a device built using a discarded laundry basket and duct tape to harness wind power in the developing world.

The winner? We selected Param Jaggi from Plano, Texas for his project Algae-Mobile 3: Bioactive Energy and Carbon Dioxide Filtration in the Exhaust of a Car. His work may one day improve air quality by reducing contaminants from automobile exhaust and improve the health of anyone impacted by automobiles. We also selected two impressive runners up: a project from Ireland that used beach strangling lettuce seaweed as heating fuel briquettes, and a project that harnessed wave, wind and solar power to create electricity.

This 2011 Intel ISEF was a great experience and certainly restored any lost faith I had on today’s kids and their ability to excel at science, technology, engineering and math. And I’m proud that EPA is playing a part in recognizing them!

About the Author: Mike Gill works in the EPA Region 9 office as a liaison between the staff working on Superfund hazardous waste cleanups and researchers in our EPA labs nationwide.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. mymoonlog permalink
    June 15, 2011


  2. melissaEPA permalink
    June 15, 2011

    Mike, it was a truly humbling experience at Intel ISEF – so many intelligent young people putting their innovative ideas toward environmental protection. With all the great ideas, i actually think that the planet is the real winner – it’s going to be a greener future because of these young scientists & engineers.

    To all the Intel ISEF participants – Keep up the amazing work & see you next year!

  3. Mike Gill permalink
    June 17, 2011

    Thanks for both of your comments. I didn’t get a chance to say this in the original blog (they only gave me so many words!), but I was truly impressed that so many kids dedicated their time to renewable energy projects. This is SO important. As we see events like the tragedy in Fukushima, constant wars over petroleum and worldwide energy needs growing daily, we need this investment NOW. If not in capital, at least in brain power. And that’s what I saw at the ISEF. The kids are alright (and all right)…….

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