When many of us were in our teens, work for science fairs comprised cut and paste displays on colorful presentation boards, and our hobbies weren't exactly about to change the world. But across the globe, teenagers with creative, scientific minds are already devising extraordinary devices, revolutionary materials and renewable technologies that might just change our planet for the greener. Click through to see some of their most incredible inventions - from bioplastics made from bananas to pee-powered energy generators and an ocean cleanup array to rid the world's oceans of waste.
When we first covered Boyan Slat’s Ocean Cleanup Array it generated a phenomenal amount of excitement, as well as debate. The 19-year-old Dutch aerospace engineering student devised the array to be dispatched to the world’s garbage patches, with an initial estimate the the oceans could be cleaned up in around 5 years. With an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms the array would span the radius of a garbage patch, acting as a giant funnel, separating plastic from plankton, and storing the refuse for recycling. Slat has since raised $80,000 to conduct a feasibility study into the Ocean Cleanup Array, and its potential for clearing the world’s oceans of trash.
16-year-old Egyptian student Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad, meanwhile, was at work finding a way to make use of waste plastic. The budding scientist discovered a catalyst that could turn Egypt’s one million tons of annually discarded plastic into a phenomenal $78 million worth of biofuel each year. She hopes that the development could “provide an economically efficient method for production of hydrocarbon fuel,” and many appear to agree; Faiad has been awarded the European Fusion Development Agreement award at the 23rd European Union Contest for Young Scientists, and is seeking patents for her discovery.
Four Nigerian teenage girls wowed visitors to the Maker Faire Africa with their pee-powered energy generator. Able to source an impressive six hours of power from just one liter of urine, the 14- and 15-year-olds renewable energy generator holds interesting possibilities for providing electricity in remote areas or in disaster zones.
It sounds more like something from a science fiction movie than a potentially viable invention from a teenage mind (hence the Prometheus image), but 19-year-old Egyptian physicist Aisha Mustafa’s Quantum Space Propulsion System could send spacecraft into the beyond without using a single drop of fuel. Mustafa believes that the quantum effect can be harnessed in space via the dynamic Casimir effect and from that, energy can be created to produce a net force that could push, pull or propel a spacecraft. Sohag University has already aided Mustafa with her patent application, and she has said she intends to keep developing the system before it is tested in outer space
13-year-old Aidan Dwyer is by far the youngest of the brilliant teenage minds in our list. The 7th grader observed the patterns of tree branches while he was on a hike and considered that such patterns could be utilized to improve the efficiency of solar trees. By utilizing the Fibonacci sequence, he was able to generate a formula that produced a solar tree design that appeared to yield 20-50% more power than an equivalent flat solar array. While Dwyer’s calculations weren’t absolutely correct, the biomimicry experiment earned the 13-year-old a provisional patent.
16-year-old Turkish student Elif Bilgin developed her very own technique for turning the unassuming banana peel into bioplastics, a discovery which she hopes could reduce dependence on petrochemicals, and make use of some of the 200 tons of banana peel discarded daily in Thailand alone. Her development relies on the properties of the starches and cellulose found in the outer layer of banana peels, which, through a chemical process developed by Bilgin herself, can be transformed into a non-decaying bioplastic.
18-year-old Californian Eesha Khare captured everyone’s attention with the creation of a device that could charge cellphones in just 20 seconds and do away with the smartphone battery-related anxiety once and for all. Khare developed a supercapacitor storage device that can store a lot of energy and fit within a cell phone battery. Not only can the device charge the phone at lightning-fast speed, it can also last for a whopping 100,000 charge cycles.