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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.


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.”

12:08pm, May 3, 2017

One middle school student studied the effect of the weed killer Roundup on human gut bacteria. Aria Eppinger won the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Advancement of $20,000 for her research in the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS. 

Aria describes her research with a judge at the 2016 Broadcom MASTERS Project Showcase.
9:00am, May 1, 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.

AMS award winners from Intel ISEF 2016, including Stephanie Shi-Ning Mui, Ekaterina Lebedeva, Phuong Anh Tran, Muhammad Ugur oglu Abdulla, Pei-Hsuan Chang, Qingxuan Jiang, Osvaldo J. Pagan, and Dariannette Valentin.
2:24pm, April 17, 2017

We had so much support for our volunteering at ISEF blog posts that even more volunteers contacted us to be featured. Jessica Ullyott has volunteered at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) for several years. She said competition, like science fairs, makes us challenge and motivate ourselves to achieve more than expected. "By pushing ourselves and others, we push the boundaries of what is possible," Jessica said.

Read on to find out why science fairs are so important.

7:00am, April 14, 2017

Not only is Maria Michta an Olympian race walker, she also has a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences. She’s the ultimate combo of scientist and athlete.

Read on to learn more about Maria’s adventures at the Olympics and how science helped to keep her mind sharp, while race walking made her more efficient in the lab. The Science Talent Search and other science fairs, she said, cultivated her love of science.

Maria Michta race walking in the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio. 
7:00am, April 12, 2017

Middle school student Joaquin Haces-Garcia invented a car seat alarm system to remind parents that their child is in the backseat. He did so after reading a devastating story of a father whose baby died of heat stroke after accidentally being left in a hot car. Joaquin felt that something had to be done to prevent this.

Read on to learn more about Broadcom MASTERS 2016 finalist Joaquin's invention and how science fair inspires him to share STEM with others.

Joaquin Haces-Garcia invented a car seat alarm system to prevent child heat stroke deaths in cars.
10:16am, April 10, 2017

Jeanne Waggener is a pharmacist and volunteers at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF). Her son has competed in Intel ISEF as well. Returning to volunteer at Intel ISEF year after year forms "my science fair family," Jeanne said.

This is the third in a series on volunteering at Intel ISEF. Read on to find out why science fairs are so important.

These are the brightest minds and critical thinkers for tomorrow’s world.

Volunteers help at the 2011 Intel ISEF.
7:00am, April 7, 2017

Students mixed homemade snot, sucked up a few boogers into droplets, and shot sneezes across a tarp-covered room. They compared the "sneezes" with and without tissues.

Students work to create circuits at the STEAM Conference at Georgetown Day School.
10:47am, April 5, 2017

"Science News is great for kids because it broadens their view of what science is," a teacher wrote in a survey conducted about the Science News in High Schools program. "It's not just the biology, chemistry, and physics they learn in high school. There are so many different subjects covered, every issue has something intriguing for each kid."

Science News is the perfect resource.

Science News covers.
10:38am, April 3, 2017

Janet Waldeck, a high school National Board Certified science teacher, has volunteered at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) for several years. "Where else can one meet the next generation of STEM leaders?" she asks, but Intel ISEF. She loves supporting a program that is "100% for children."

This is the second in a series on volunteering at Intel ISEF. Read on to find out how the science competition showcases future STEM leaders.

Janet Waldeck (right) at the Society's Research Teachers Conference in 2016.
9:00am, March 31, 2017

Over 130 alumni from across the Society for Science & the Public’s middle school and high school science competitions gathered for a brunch reception and panel discussion during this year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search.

Moderated by Society President & CEO Maya Ajmera (1985 STS), the panel was comprised of science professionals and Society alumni, including: Erika Angle (1999 STS; 1997 ISEF), Michelle Hackman (2011 STS), and Sara Sakowitz (2014 STS; 2014 ISEF).

An all-woman panel discussed challenges and successes in STEM at the alumni brunch during the 2017 Regeneron STS.
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