The focus for this year’s United Nations’ International Day of the Girl Child on Friday, October 11, is innovating for girls’ education. It’s a more than fitting theme in a year that has seen 16-year-old education advocate Malala Yousafzai make a remarkable recovery after being shot in the head by the Taliban and become a popular favorite to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
It was just about a year ago that Malala was gravely wounded while she and other students were returning home from school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. After multiple surgeries in the U.K. and a long hospital stay, Malala has returned to school, published a memoir, I Am Malala and won the European Union’s Sakharov human rights prize. She continues to speak up about the necessity of education for girls everywhere and especiallyin parts of the world where illiteracy rates are high.
The U.N. recently issued a report that underscored the many challenges faced by adolescent girls who have had to flee their homes and found themselves, all too often without their parents, in refugee camps where they face sexual abuse, exploitation and forced marriage. Malala’s story reminds us of all that one girl can do and why, on the International Day of the Girl Child and every other day, we need to nurture girls’ potential more than ever.
These young women are, like Malala, well on their way to changing the world whether by creating clean energy and conducting research in physics. More often than not, they were inspired by a desire to help others.
1. Eesha Khare
Are you the sort of person who only remembers to charge your cell phone three minutes before you have to run out the door? 18-year-old Eesha Khare of Saratoga, California, invented the charger you’ve been waiting for. Her supercapacitor is a black, rectangular device that is small on volume but can hold so much energy that it can charge a cell phone battery in 20 to 30 seconds. For her invention, Khare won a $50,000 prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and was honored by winning one of two Young Scientist Awards.
2, Adebola Duro-Aina
Many Nigerians power their households with generators as the country’s power grid experiences routine outages; in 2009, only 50 percent of Nigerians had electricity. Adebola Duro-Aina, a Doregos Private Academy, a junior and senior secondary school in Lagos, became motivated to figure out a way to provide others with power using an alternative and safe fuel after learning that nine members of a family had died from carbon monoxide from a gas-fueled generator.
Together with Oluwatoyin Faleke, Eniola Bello and Abiola Akindele, three students from her science class, Duro-Aina created a generator that runs with urine. While it remains to be seen if the four teenagers’ “urine power” invention can be commercially produced, they must be commended for making an environmentally-friendly, low-cost energy source that runs on a highly available substance.
3. Ann Makosinski
A 15-year-old student from Victoria in British Columbia, Makosinski has created a hollow flashlight that needs no batteries — it runs on thermal energy from the human body. The teenager found that Peltier tiles (which produce electricity when they are heated on one side and cooled on the other) can produce enough power to light an LED.
After doing research about energy harvesting for months, Makosinki learned about an affordable circuit that could be used in conjunction with a transformer to generate enough voltage for the flashlight. Using an aluminum tube and a PVC tube (from Home Depot), she created two flashlights that can produce a steady beam of light for 20 minutes.
4. Samantha Marquez
17-year-old Samantha Marquez has discovered a new kind of cell structure called Celloidosome. Her discovery could lead to innovations in medical treatments (including tissue regeneration and the regeneration of whole organs such as the liver or pancreas) and also to a novel way to clean up a nuclear disaster (Celloidosome could create an artificial organism which could track radioactive heavy metals).
Marquez, who won the prize at the 2012 Intel Science and Engineering Fair for her work, says she keeps some words from her parents — nadie te quita lo vivido, “nobody takes away from you what you have already lived” — always in mind.
5. Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad
Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad, a student at the Zahran Language School in Alexandria, Egypt, discovered a catalyst that can turn waste plastic into biofuel worth $78 million. The catalyst that Faiad found is called aluminosilicate; it breaks down plastic waste while producing gaseous products like methane, propane and ethane, all of which can be converted into ethanol. By Faiad’s own calculations, aluminosilicate could produce about 40,000 tons of cracked naphtha and 138,000 tons of hydrocarbon gases per year and at a low cost.
Egypt is estimated to produce 1 million tons of plastic a year; Faiad’s invention is truly useful for her country and for the entire planet.
6. Deepika Kurup
At the age of 14, Deepika Kurup invented a water purification system that runs on solar energy. Like Duro-Aina, she got the idea for her invention after seeing others in need. While in India, Kurup had seen children drinking from a pool of dirty stagnant water; this motivated her to create a low-cost water purification system, an invention that won her a first prize of $25,000 in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.
Kurup is now doing her part to motivate other girls to study science and technology. As she notes, science involves a lot more than working in a lab (she worked in her New Hampshire backyard to create the water purification system).
7. Aisha Mustafa
Aisha Mustafa, who is studying physics at Egypt’s Sohag University, pretty much reinvented space travel last year when she patented a new system that can launch spacecrafts, all without using a single drop of fuel. Mustafa drew on quantum physics for her discovery as Gizmodo explains:
… her system taps one of the odder facets of quantum theory, which posits that space isn’t really a vacuum. It’s really filled with particles and anti-particles that exist for infinitesimally small periods of time before destroying each other. Mustafa thinks she can harness them to create propulsion, resulting in space craft that need little-to-no fuel to manoeuvre around in space.
Spacecraft now use engines which need to burn heavy, chemical fuels for propulsion. Mustafa’s system (which is still far from being put into use) lets “the laws [of] physics do the heavy-lifting instead.”
8. Maya Burhanpurkar
Maya Burhanpurkar is not yet in college, but the teenager has already done novel research in the field of fundamental physics and (before she started investigating the last fundamentally unknown quality in Isaac Newton’s model) in medicines to treat Alzheimer’s and in antibiotics.
Volunteering in a hospital in India led her to study how and why antivirals and antibiotics both help and harm the body at the same time. Now 14 years old and in the tenth grade, Burhanpurkar is taking on climate change by making a documentary about the human side of global warming after a visit to the Arctic.
Photo via carbonfibreme/Flickr