PHOENIX Ar.—Two Montgomery County teens won awards through the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) at the 2019 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in Phoenix on May 17.
Sanjit Thangarasu of Clarksburg and Garyk Brixi of Potomac won first and second place respectively in USAID’s Digital for Development category.
USAID is an agency that promotes development projects in areas around the world that need growth.
According to Intel, its ISEF competition is the largest of its kind with 1,800 high school students awarded the opportunity to participate this year. The organization estimates that nearly 80 countries and territories around the world are represented in the competition. Added together, the prize money from each category totals more than $5 million.
“Today, millions of students worldwide compete each year in local, school-sponsored science fairs. The winners of these events go on to showcase their independent research,” ISEF writes.
Students in grades nine through 12 are eligible to compete in 22 categories, ranging from biochemistry to translational medical science.
The competition also has time restrictions on research. According to ISEF guidelines, students can present work with no more than 12 months of continuous research.
Thangarasu won first place in his category for his innovative, non-electric, lifesaving oxygen concentrator. The Poolesville High School student called his project Access02.
“The project is to develop a human-powered oxygen concentrator to meet the needs of neonates (infants that are less than four weeks old) and infants,” he explained.
According to the World Health Organization, pneumonia is the single-largest infectious cause of death for infants.
Pneumonia and other similar lung diseases are often treatable, at least in part, with concentrated oxygen. But in developing nations, concentrated oxygen can be hard to come by due to inaccessibility to electricity or the complicated logistics in transporting oxygen cylinders.
“My project started with the news (that) 18 patients in a critical care unit died due to the lack of electricity during heavy flooding in Chennai, India, in December 2015,” Thangarasu said. “This happened in the very hospital where I used to go when I was an infant.”
Through research, he noted just how important medical oxygen is and how alarming the rates of death from pneumonia and other lung diseases are for neonates.
His solution was an invention that produces concentrated oxygen when the system is pedaled by a human, much like a stationary bike. The invention does not require gas or electricity to run, according to Thangarasu.
“The expected application is an installation in a clinic without reliable electricity, attached to a neonatal incubator, supplying continuous oxygen while the device is pedaled by family members and friends,” he said.
Thangarasu said that the invention will require only a moderate level of physical power so it can be pedaled by a normal person for a longer time.
Through classes called Project Lead the Way (PLTW) in middle and high school, Thangarasu said that he gained the engineering skills to bring his invention to light. He also credits his experience on his robotics team, which also helped him along the way.
The current version of his invention uses the original designs.
“I have learned a lot while building and troubleshooting the system, though. I have made several improvements and plan to continue making the system more efficient and reliable,” he said.
Thangarasu expresses a sense of fulfillment from creating inventions that help people.
“I like working on projects like these because it gives me a sense of satisfaction knowing that the work I do can be used to help others that cannot help themselves,” he said.
When he’s not working on the finer details of his current project Thangarasu explained that he’s usually busy with school work.
“But I also enjoy playing sports like cricket and participating in other competitions like hackathons,” he said.
In second place of the same category, Brixi won for his project titled Novel Computational Tool to Inform Cost-Effective Nutrition Interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa. He partnered with Lilliam Peterson of Los Alamos, New Mexico, to invent a tool that examines the causes of child malnutrition and produces cost-effective nutrition interventions.
Brixi was awarded $3,000 in prize money.
The top prize in the entire competition went to 16-year-old Krithik Ramesh of Greenwood Village, Colorado. His project helps orthopedic surgeons improve their accuracy in screw placement during spinal surgery.
Ramesh was awarded $75,000 and received the Gordon E. Moore Award for his project.
The projects are judged by science, engineering and industry professionals who have a Ph.D. or equivalent degree or are senior graduate students with doctoral-level research in one of the included categories.