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Intel ISEF

Frugal science: Building an army of scientists around the world

2:58PM, May 16, 2017
Doing Science
Manu Prakash described how scientific tools must be more accessible to people in the field, especially those without electricity.

Manu Prakash described how scientific tools must be more accessible to people in the field, especially those without electricity.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SOCIETY FOR SCIENCE & THE PUBLIC/CHRIS AYERS PHOTOGRAPHY.

Growing up in India, Manu Prakash couldn’t afford a microscope. He challenged his brother and himself that he would build one out of cardboard and duct tape. So he stole the fat lenses from his brother’s glasses and created his own.

“My brother was not happy,” Manu said, “but that was the moment that changed my trajectory into science.”

Now, Manu is the co-inventor of a foldable paper microscope that costs less than $1 to make. He’s donated the Foldscope to people around the world — 50,000 so far to hundreds of countries, with plans to donate a million. These paper scientific tools don’t require electricity and can withstand the rigors of the field.

Manu pushed the Intel ISEF finalists to share their science with others.

Manu discussed his STEM journey and offered advice to the Intel ISEF 2017 finalists. He believes and practices frugal science, the idea that science is for everyone, not just for the people who have access to it or the money to get resources.

“We need a lot more people thinking about these problems,” he said. “It’s possible to make these instruments completely human-powered.”

Manu’s approach to frugal science is to give himself a lot of constraints when trying to invent solutions or tools that would survive in the field without electricity or in rural clinics. For instance, the Foldscope is built out of origami, weighs less than 10 grams, and offers 700 nanometer resolution.

Once he donated Foldscopes, one community in Madagascar created paintings of species they found in their backyards.

We need a lot more people thinking about these problems. It’s possible to make these instruments completely human-powered.

He also created a paper centrifuge, based on a whirligig toy. You can prick your finger, get a drop of blood, and do sample prep with the whirligig that is completely human-powered. In a rural clinic in Madagascar, doctors were using a large centrifuge as a doorstop because they hadn’t had electricity in the area for five years and couldn’t power the tool. The whirligig is able to spin as fast as 1 million rpm, enough to separate blood plasma and parasites.

“You’ve got to share what you do with others,” Manu said. “The real power is within the community, not in the tool.”

Manu encouraged the finalists to become mentors for others. “I can make as many microscopes as are needed, but I cannot make mentors,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Manu snuck into the poster exhibition room, where the nearly 2,000 finalists display their projects, and was “absolutely inspired by the creativity I see in that room and the grace and humility you bring to science.”

You’ve got to share what you do with others.

Manu admitted that he’s been feeling depressed with the current state of science denial and other challenges. “I’ve been depressed, but not anymore,” he said. “I see in you a future.”

The world is living through very tough times, Manu explained. “Climate change, biodiversity loss, science denial. It’s daunting. But solutions are sprinkled everywhere,” he said. “We have to build an army of scientists around the world.”

We have to build an army of scientists around the world.

Once you leave this room, Manu said, engage others in science. “Share your passion for science to the people who can’t afford it,” he said. “Science is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And I’m so honored to be here at the starting line with all of you in this marathon.”

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2:57pm, May 16, 2017

Representatives from 78 countries, regions, and territories ran onto the stage, hoisting flags and posters decorated with their country pride. They were from Argentina and Zimbabwe, Israel and Saudi Arabia, Ghana and the Ukraine.

As country names were called out into the large hall, the representatives from each science fair team ran up and stood on stage. By the end of the list, there was a bustling crowd of finalists waving their hands and posters to the rest of the room. Last night at the opening ceremonies, we welcomed students from around the world to Intel ISEF 2017.

As their country was called, finalists ran up onto the stage with wide smiles.
3:00pm, May 15, 2017

If you’re interested in science and research, go for it and persist. This was the main theme of the Leveraging Your Science Fair Experience: Oh the Places You Can Go! symposia session at Intel ISEF 2017 with Society for Science & the Public President & CEO Maya Ajmera and several Intel ISEF alumni.

“Many of you will now become alumni after this week,” Maya said. “It comes with a great network and an extraordinary experience.”

Alumni on the panel included:

Linn, Raymond, Maya Ajmera, Diya, Christopher, and Kathy at an Intel ISEF 2017 symposia session.
12:00pm, May 15, 2017

Dozens of inflatable globes were thrown into the audience. Intel ISEF finalists, judges, and fair directors spun their globes, spotting the Gulf Stream, Kuroshio Current, and other important spots.

Symposia audience members inspect inflatable globes to learn about climate change modeling.
8:00am, May 15, 2017

On the first night of every Intel ISEF, thousands of finalists get to know each other and trade pins from their countries, states, or cities at the beloved pin exchange tradition. It becomes a bit of a contest to see who has the most stuffed lanyard.

View photos from the 2017 pin exchange below:

Intel ISEF 2017 finalists traded pins from the countries, states, or cities at the Pin Exchange, a beloved tradition.
12:00pm, May 12, 2017

Leading up to Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2017, the Society for Science & the Public has been asking our alumni to share a message for current Intel ISEF finalists on social media. We've heard some great stories, and wanted to share a special message with you from Cathy Chen, a 2007-2010 Intel ISEF finalist.

Cathy Chen and Alexander Mullen at their wedding.
9:00am, May 12, 2017

One middle school student found a sustainable way to clean up oil spills. Nathan Deng, a 2016 Broadcom MASTERS top winner, found that existing surfactant measuring options are crude or costly. So he invented a cheaper tool.

Now, Nathan is working on packaging his surface tension kits for students and people in developing countries. He's also figuring out how to educate people on using the device.

Read on to learn more about Nathan's continued research, and how to keep going even when your invention doesn't work on the first, second, or third time.

Nathan Deng explains his project at the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS Science and Engineering Project Showcase.
9:00am, May 10, 2017

Young scientists truly are the harbingers of the future. They are inventing recycled materials, creating alternative water dispensers, working to enact bottle deposit bills, and more.

9:15am, May 9, 2017

Peeyush Shrivastava is the CEO of Genetesis, a cardiac imaging company working on the future of medical imaging. An Intel Science Talent Search 2013 semifinalist, Peeyush was a BioOhio startup winner and has been nominated as one of the top AI startups for social impact.

Not to mention, Genetesis won seed funding from Shark Tank's Mark Cuban. Peeyush and his team are building ways to detect sources of abnormality in the heart with quicker, noninvasive ways. They are working on 3D maps of electrical activity and noninvasive scans.

Peeyush and his team are working to create better cardiac imaging.
9:00am, May 8, 2017

As the Society and participants around the world gear up for Intel  International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2017 in Los Angeles, California, we're highlighting several Special Award Organizations (SAO). These SAO's honor several Intel ISEF finalists with awards such as tuition scholarships, math software, and more.

NASA has been involved with Intel ISEF for many years. NASA recognizes Intel ISEF finalists with $20,000 in awards. Read our interview with NASA's Public Outreach Manager Stacey Brooks below.

NASA award winners from Intel ISEF 2016.
9:00am, May 5, 2017

As the Society and participants around the world gear up for Intel  International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2017 in Los Angeles, California, we're highlighting several Special Award Organizations (SAO). These SAO's honor several Intel ISEF finalists with awards such as tuition scholarships, math software, and more.

At Intel ISEF 2016, finalists display posters from their countries during the opening ceremony.
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