Who says STEM is just for boys? A trio of Irish girls won the 2014 Google science fair. The fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics draw more male students than female students, but that does not mean young women are not as capable or innovative. A team of 16 year old female scientists from Ireland proved that women have what it takes to excel in STEM careers.
The Google Science Fair is an international competition which challenges participants to employ science to improve the world. The 2014 Grand Prize was awarded to Ciara Judge, Emer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow for their research into combating world hunger. The girls became concerned about famine in the horn of Africa and the looming food shortages around the world. In their video, the girls from Kinsale, Ireland say they are good at microbiology, like to garden and want to aid the food crisis.
The title of the winning project is “Natural Bacteria Combating World Hunger.” Population growth and prolonged droughts have cause massive food shortages in the Horn of Africa. The political solution is to provide aid and ship in food, but the Irish team found a way to make the African people more self-sufficient. They discovered diazotroph bacteria in the soil and suspected it could be used to increase crop yield. Diazotrophs are a class of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Nitrogen is essential to all living things in order to biosynthesize the building blocks of life such as nucleotides, DNA and amino acids. Rhizobium form a symbiotic relationship with legumes. The plants supply oxygen and the life processes of Rhizobium make nitrogen available to the roots of plants. The team found that this bacteria could also be used to speed the germination of grain crops.
The team tested over 10,000 seeds for the project; an immense undertaking for a group of 10thgrade high school students. They were inspired when Hickey noticed strange nodules on the roots of her pea plants and brought them into school. Their science teacher explained the relationship between Rhizobium and legumes and the importance of nitrogen to growing plants. The team wondered if the bacteria could be induced to interact with plants such as grains with which it is not normally associated. They found the bacteria decreased germination time by up to 50 percent in barley and oats. Even more promising, when mature, the grains had a 74 percent increase in dry mass yield. Growing more crops more quickly could impact food shortages in Africa and around the world.
Three girls won the 2014 Google Science Fair, proving that STEM is not just for boys, and the news has made international headlines. The girls will receive a coveted ten day trip to the Galapagos Islands and a chance to train as astronauts. They will also share a $50,000 scholarship and another $10,000 was awarded to their school for computer equipment, but it might be more significant to the team that agriculturalists they have spoken to say their research could make a real difference in farmer’s work and lives. Unlike the Horn of Africa, Ireland has damp soil. Faster germination means losing fewer seeds to rot. World population is above 7.2 billion and still growing. By the end of the century it is expected to be close to 11 billion. Every country in the world will need to increase agricultural efficiency and yield. These girls have found a way to use natural processes to grow more food.
The Google Science Fair is open to teens from 13 to 18 years old with three age groups. Besides the girls from Ireland, Mihir Garimella, who is 14, won for an aeronautics application. His project might make drones better at avoiding obstacles during search and rescue missions. Hayley Todesco of Alberta received an award for a sand filter that can be used to remove toxins from the waste water created by processing oil sands. Garimella and Todesco each won $25,000 as well as packages from NatGeo, Lego and Google.
Who says STEM is just for boys? Three Irish girls won the 2014 Google Science Fair. In fact, about half of the finalists and winners over the past few years have been girls. These young female scientists are proving that women can compete in science. This year’s winners also prove that girls can change the world.
By: Rebecca Savastio