By KAYLA RUTLEDGE
GSN Staff Writer

Joining thousands of teens from around the world at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, East Valley students showed off their skills and won prize money while exploring ways to create a better world through their knowledge.

In all, 1,800 finalists representing 80 countries, gathered recently to have their projects judged by industry professionals with a Ph.D. or equivalent degree in one of the 22 scientific disciplines. The students were among some of the world’s most accomplished and most had already won championships in state, region or national science competitions this year.

Each project started with a bolt of inspiration.

After Mindy Long’s grandmother passed away partly because there weren’t enough doctors at her hospital in China, the Hamilton High School senior found smartphones could relieve physicians of some basic duties.

“If the future of healthcare is automated, it can relieve the pressure from doctors so they can directly assist patients that have complications and need human-to-human care,” Mindy said.

The Gilbert teen created a sensor and phone application that tracks a patient’s blood for iron deficiencies and excesses.

Anemia and hemochromatosis tests cost around $150 and take five to six hours to obtain results. Mindy’s sensor and app work together to gather instantaneous results.

“This is especially beneficial to those that live in the rural U.S. or those that live in countries around the world where doctors aren’t readily available, because you can track everything you need to know about your body’s iron levels right from home,” said Mindy.

Mindy took home $500 and fourth place for her project at the fair, which will go through clinical testing in Argentina this summer.

Though many of the projects aimed at improving the world of medicine in some way, Ella Wang and Breanna Tang, both freshmen at BASIS Chandler, set out to overcome food shortages and reduce waste through the use of soybean residue.

The girls were inspired after Ella’s mom used soybeans at home, and she realized how difficult it was to dispose of the waste in an environmentally responsible way.

After testing nitrogen and potassium levels — as well as soil permeability and water holding capacity — Ella and Breanna found that not only can soybean curd residue be repurposed for crops, but it increases their yields.

“We know that farming on a large scale poses a lot of environmental risks, but hopefully we can sort of combat that with our project or at least show people that there are places we can start improving,” said Ella.

While some projects, like Breanna and Ella’s, strived to improve practices around the world, others discovered ways to improve life right here in Arizona.

Red Mountain High School seniors Arianna Comes and Julie Larsen, created autonomous detection system that tests for E. coli in the Oak Creek Watershed in real time.

“Julie first discovered this problem through her AP environmental science class last year. So after she toured [the state’s] labs she brought the idea back to me and we did it for our engineering capstone project,” said Arianna.

The current testing method used on the water takes 18 hours to complete, risking a change in the state of the water by the time the test is complete. Arianna and Julie’s test takes under two hours from start to finish.

Pia Wilson-Body, president of the Intel Foundation, said the fair serves as a platform for young innovators to collaborate, learn and expand their understanding of the world.

She added the fair is also a great way to highlight diversity and inclusion work and empower communities.

In addition to the record female participation rate at almost 50 percent, Wilson-Body said having representatives from around the world enables the “experience [to go] beyond the competition; it is an opportunity to develop cross-cultural connections.”

Over $5 million in scholarships and awards were distributed to the fair’s participants, in hopes of continuing their education or careers in STEM fields.

Wilson-Body said the work of Intel would not be possible without the constant support of parents and others, “who provide opportunities for students to engage and explore the world of STEM, and ultimately reach their full potential. It takes a village.”