Young Innovators Honored at Intel Science and Engineering Fair

More than 1,700 projects were on display, including a wearable to detect tremors in people with Parkinson’s disease and a self-cooling solar cell

27 June 2016

Will I see the next world-changing innovation? Will I meet a future IEEE Medal of Honor recipient? How many of these young people will one day become IEEE members?

Those were some of the questions I pondered as I walked into the Phoenix Convention Center on 12 May to attend my first Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). The event, sponsored by Intel, is a program of the Society for Science and the Public. Founded in 1950, the nonprofit organization is dedicated to the promotion of science through its educational programs and publications.

Since 1999, IEEE has awarded the IEEE Presidents’ Scholarship, which is presented at the ISEF to recognize an outstanding project that demonstrates an understanding of electrical engineering, electronics engineering, computer science, or other IEEE field of interest. The US $10,000 scholarship is the single largest prize presented at ISEF, and is made possible thanks to generous donations to the IEEE Foundation.

A team of IEEE members reviews all projects in IEEE fields of interest and selects the scholarship winner.

INNOVATION ON DISPLAY

The exhibit floor was buzzing with energy from the students, ages 13 to 18, from 75 countries—many of whom were dressed in traditional attire from their home country. On display were the 1,756 projects chosen as finalists for this year’s competition. Some students (alone or in teams of two or three) worked for months, and in some cases years, on their projects. I focused on the exhibits within IEEE’s technical fields of interest.

The quality, diversity, and technical complexity of the projects were extraordinary. As I spoke with the students, my enthusiasm grew. The stories behind their ideas were fascinating and often heartwarming. The students’ poise and ability to articulate the concepts behind their projects and answer questions was impressive.

One student, for example, designed a wearable device for the detection, monitoring, and control of tremors caused by Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. Many students are already thinking about filing for patents to protect their work.

By the end of my visit to the exhibit floor, I knew some of the innovations I’d seen would have far-reaching impact, and I was confident many of the students would someday become IEEE members.

I began wondering how the judges would decide who would win. My answer came a few hours later at the award ceremony, where more than 300 prizes were presented, including the IEEE Presidents’ Scholarship.

RISING STAR

Tiasha Joardar, a student at Plano West Senior High School, in Texas, won this year’s scholarship for her “Development of a High Efficiency Solar Cell Using Adaptive Self-Cooling” project. She developed a new kind of silicon photovoltaic solar-power system that uses a thermoelectric heat pump to regulate the solar panel’s temperature.

IEEE was not the only organization that recognized the quality of her work. She received three other awards—top prize in the ISEF Energy: Physical category, a Caltech Innovation Exploration Award from Intel, and a second-place award—which comes with a $250 prize—sponsored by the American Intellectual Property Law Association.

Tiasha plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin and major in business and either electrical engineering or computer science. Included with her prize is an IEEE student membership and a student society membership. She said she expects IEEE will play an important role in her future, and I can’t help but think that it might not be the last time IEEE recognizes her.

Sometime in the next few years, thanks to her talent and interest in renewable energy, she could qualify for one of the scholarships awarded through the IEEE Power & Energy Society Scholarship Plus Initiative, an IEEE Foundation signature program. Or maybe her invention will help IEEE Smart Village, another IEEE Foundation signature program, to bring power to more communities that don’t have access to the grid.

IEEE members can help enable programs such as the Presidents’ Scholarship by supporting the IEEE Foundation. Together, we bring the power of technology and the knowledge to use it to individuals and communities all over the world.

Karen Galuchie is executive director of the IEEE Foundation.

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