Sometimes the brightest ideas come in young packages. Teenagers from around the world demonstrate you don’t need a high school diploma to come up with a life-changing invention. From $13 germ-killing door handles to Braille printers, check out these eight teenage inventions that revolutionize the way we view energy, food, and, of course, the oceans.
14-year-old designs pedal-powered washing machine
When assigned with laundry duty after her mother got sick, Remya Jose, a 14-year-old girl from India, designed an ingenious pedal-powered washing machine to save the time of doing laundry by hand in a nearby river. Jose made her clever washing machine with recycled bicycle components, creating an appliance that could greatly assist families who lack access to electricity.
Related: 13-year-old Maanasa Mendu invents groundbreaking clean energy device that costs just $5
16-year-olds discover way to increase crop yields for Combating the Global Food Crisis project
Garden-loving teenagers Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey, and Sophie Healy-Thow of Ireland won the Google Science Fair 2014 with their Combating the Global Food Crisis project. The 16-year-olds paired a bacteria often found in symbiotic relationships with legumes with crops it doesn’t typically associate with, namely oats and barley. Crops that tested their unique pairing were wildly successful, germinating in about half the time and producing a 74 percent greater drymass yield. Increasing crop yields is vital as the global population grows, and discoveries like this one could greatly impact the way we combat food poverty.
19-year-old invents Ocean Cleanup Array
For several years now, Inhabitat has been covering the efforts of The Ocean Cleanup CEO Boyan Slat of the Netherlands, who at 19 years old invented an Ocean Cleanup Array, and we’re continually impressed by his persistence. The Ocean Cleanup recently completed their first aerial reconnaissance mission of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The results weren’t pretty – 1,000 large plastic pieces spotted in two hours – but there’s still hope to clean up the mess we’ve made. The Ocean Cleanup won the Katerva Award in 2016, and feasibility studies indicate one 63-mile array could “remove 42 percent of the Great Pacific garbage patch in only 10 years.”
12-year-old builds inexpensive, working Braille printer
12-year-old Shubham Banerjee of California utilized a Lego Mindstorms EV3 kit and about $5 of hardware from Home Depot to design an innovative Braille printer, the Braigo v1.0, that cost way less than similar devices. Around 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide, according to World Health Organization data, but as Braille printers cost over $2,000 when Banerjee invented his device, his disruptive technology held the potential to change how the blind communicate. He went on to start a company, Braigo Labs, and about three years later, has released an app and web platform and continues to develop his groundbreaking printer (and he’s still in high school.)
17-year-old creates a device that can purify water and produce clean energy simultaneously
Millions of people around the world live without electricity or clean water, and 17-year-old Cynthia Sin Nga Lam of Australia decided to tackle both issues at once with her portable H2Pro device. The H2Pro unit harnesses photocatalysis, or using light to speed up a chemical reaction, to sterilize water. As a side bonus, the process also yields hydrogen, which Lam said could be used to produce electricity.
17-year-old designs human waste bioreactor to turn human poo into clean energy
When Kenya‘s Maseno School opened up new dormitories for over 700 students in 2013, the area around the students’ home often smelled because of pit latrines and a defective sewage system, which also polluted local freshwater. High schooler Leroy Mwasaru and four friends came up with a solution: a human waste bioreactor that could transform waste into a clean cooking fuel for the kitchen, which had been using firewood. Today, Mwasaru is the founder of Greenpact, a group aiming to provide biogas solutions to over six million Kenyans who lack access to adequate sanitation and renewable energy.
17-year-old and 18-year-old design $13 germ-killing door handle
17-year-old Sun Ming (Simon) Wong and 18-year-old King Pong (Michael) Li of Hong Kong knew bacteria spreads via handles on doors or shopping carts touched by hundreds of people daily. So they hunted for a material that could kill that bacteria and found an answer in titanium oxide. Instead of simply coating a handle in titanium oxide, though, they added an LED light into a bracket holding the handle to truly activate the compound, which can then annihilate 99.8 percent of germs. Even better, the device only costs around $13, meaning it could be accessible for more people worldwide.
16-year-old utilizes ingredients found in pencils and sunscreen to create pollution-cleansing coating
Sunscreen and pencils might not be the first two items you’d go to for answers to clean up pollution, but 16-year-old Samuel Burrow of England utilized two ingredients found in those common items to create a “paint-like coating” that has the power to break down pollutants with the help of light. He mixed titanium dioxide with graphene oxide for a concoction with not one, but several applications, in addition to a surface paint. As a sponge, Burrow’s mixture can purify water, and when combined with sand, it has the potential to filter heavy metals out of water. Just imagine how clean the world could be if all buildings were painted with Burrow’s marvelous mix.
Images via Brit + Co; Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow on Google+; The Ocean Cleanup; Shubham Banerjee; Google Science Fair; Innovate Kenya; Student Society for Science; and screenshot