kids with lego awards

There’s sometimes a tendency to dismiss kids. Sure, what would they know anyway? Best leave them to their phones and whatever arcane stuff they get up to on the internet… Perhaps we could look to them a little more often.

Now and then you’ll come across a ‘Teen Invents…’ headline and the article will tell you about a seemingly nifty new invention that at closer inspection turns out to be impractical: to costly to produce, doesn’t really achieve it’s results. If anything this fifteen year old’s invention has a surplus of practicality and, thankfully, is actually relatively cheap to build and could affect a sizeable part of the worlds poorest and most at risk people. Cynthia designed a water purifier called H2Pro that doesn’t need electricity to operate which means it can be deployed in remote regions without the need to provide costly solar, or worse, fossil fuel generators that can run out of fuel. It uses sunlight as a power source that makes not just clean water but hydrogen which collects in a fuel cell and generates its own surplus electricity.

I think that the single most important thing about it, though, is that it can be made locally with only one or two components that might need to be supplied by the developed world, at least in the beginning. The way we keep sending aid as complex technology and Western grown food has been shown to damage local economies massively and this purifier is a way for communities to provide water and small amounts of power for themselves at a low cost. To cap it off the unit can be scaled up to provide sustainable houses that recycles almost all its waste water. In the smaller form it can aleviate some of the worst refugee situations like the ones we see in Syria and Iraq.

The second invention you may already know about. Three girls from Cork won the top prize at the Google Science Fair this September gone with an idea that might take the scientists, agriculturalists and conservationists a while to grasp the magnitude of. Any horticulturalist or grower can tell you that seed germination can be quite hit and miss, especially if you are working on a large scale and not using propagators like we do for growing a few tomatoes or vegatables in the garden beds. On a the scale of, say a wheat field, a vast amount of the seed goes to waste; it doesn’t germinate and so doesn’t grow. The team from Cork, who also won this year’s Young Scientist Award, worked out that where a naturally recurring bacterium, Diazotroph, is present in the seed, it germinated up to 50% faster and increased barley yields by an enormous 74%. The effect that this could have on food poverty should be huge: farmers can save much less seed for sowing next year and have a lot more for sale and to feed the family. As a tidy little bonus it will reduce the amount of fertilisers used to help reluctant crops to germinate, shrinking the environmental footprint of modern farming.

While not every young person can invent at this level (nor every adult) it’s good to sit back and look at the direction many kids go when they have the support. There’s one last idea that’s worth a look: this teen has come up with a torch that runs off only the heat of your hands, literally bringing light to the darkness in places that can only access power when Westerners show up with solar cells…

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