Meet 11 of South Africa’s smartest young minds

11 South African teenagers have taken on the country’s food security and energy problems with unique solutions, which they showcased at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2015 (ISEF).

At ISEF, 1,700 students from around the world are demonstrating the best innovations in science and engineering.

Many of these innovations are inspired by local problems, such as South Africa’s consistent load shedding.

The 11 local students at ISEF, and their innovations, are detailed blow.

The world’s newest superfood

Anna Midgley, 16, from Herschel Girl’s high school has recognised the need for a protein-rich crop to supplement the typical starchy diets prevalent in rural areas.

She looked at the environmentally-friendly fynbos plants and their potential to be a crop that will grow in low-nutrient soil at a low cost.

Fynbos nuts have about twice the amount of protein as meat in 100g, are low in fat, and high in omega 3, making them an excellent addition to the diet of many communities.

Anna Midgley from Herschel Girls High School

Replacing fertilisers with worm tea

Avuyile Mbangatha, 17, from Stirling high school in East London is applying worm tea to crops in developing communities to increase food security and alleviate poverty.

The worm tea is comprised of worm castings and stimulates the growth of the crops, providing an environmentally-friendly alternative to artificial fertilisers. It’s also a natural pesticide.

In the agricultural community where the worm tea was tested, more people are now being fed from less land without adding chemicals to the soil.

Avuyile Mbangatha from Stirling High School

Optimising energy consumption from your tablet

From Hoerskool Garsfontein, Armand Duvenage, 17, has designed and built a mobile energy management system to enable the monitoring of energy usage in a home or small business.

The system is able to monitor the voltage, frequency, and current consumption of each circuit that it is linked to it.

Users can set pre-defined conditions to minimise the peak power of the house or small industry, while optimising the energy consumption profile.

Armand Duvenage from Hoerskool Garsfontein

Generating electricity with magnetised bacteria

Bernard Smit, 18, from Hoerskool Waterkloof has designed a method to generate eco-friendly and sustainable energy with Magnetotactic bacteria.

Faraday’s Law of electromagnetic induction is used to move the magnetised bacteria through an induction tube to generate electricity.

A current of 0.05mA was initially generated, but this grew to 0.31mA as the bacteria multiplied over three days, and this can be scaled up.

Bernard Smit from Hoerskool Waterkloof

A portable solar power kit that tracks the sun

Fritz Keyzer and Josiah Senior, both 17 and from Pinelands High School in Cape Town, have created a portable power source for use in developing communities, the military, or even camping.

The power source gathers energy through solar panels that follow the sun, improving their efficiency by 45% compared to stationary solar panels.

The power source has been built into a box, making it a portable system that has sufficient power to charge small electronic devices, batteries, or lights.

Fritz Keyzer and Josiah Senior from Pinelands Boys High School

cityscape and technology and network connection concept

Introducing palladium to fuel cells to make them cheaper

Roland Dubb, 16, from Herzlia High School addressed the costliness and sustainability of hydrogen fuel cells that contain an expensive platinum catalyst.

In an effort to make fuel cells cheaper, he compared copper and palladium against platinum as catalysts.

He found that palladium used as an anode together with platinum as a cathode can produce a similar output voltage while offering a significant cost benefit.

Roland Dubb from Herzlia High School

Generating electricity from mud

From Kiriyatswane High School, Siyabonga Nkosi, 18, built a basic fuel cell using loamy mud.

Microbes in the mud consume organic matter and then produce electrodes, which can be collected through copper and zinc terminals.

This cost-effective and environmentally-friendly solution is intended to assist people in rural areas, where there is an abundance of loamy soil, and can emit enough power to charge a phone or power a study lamp.

Siyabonga Nkosi from Kiriyatswane High School

Using berries to make dye-sensitised solar cells

Tyrique Byroo, 15, from Star College Boys High discovered a cheaper way to manufacture solar cells using using organic chemical dyes, namely berries.

His experiments revealed that a dye-sensitised solar cell using blackberry dye generated the highest millivolt of current, and could be manufactured for less than half the cost of a standard solar panel.

Tyrique Byroo from Star College Boys High

A simple way to track the stars

Iselle Van Den Heever, 16, from Jim Fousché high school intends to create a passion for science in rural areas that don’t have access to expensive equipment.

To do this, she has developed a simple apparatus that can determine the duration of a sidereal day – which is the time it takes a star to reach the same position in the sky from one night to the next.

The apparatus is a transparent dome on which the position of different stars can be plotted through a night, and is a simple, fun, and inexpensive tool for those interested in astronomy.

Iselle Van Den Heever from Jim Fousche High School

An innovative alerting mechanism for mobility-assistive devices

From Ladysmith High School, Nishka Ramkhelawan, 16, designed and built a portable and user-friendly alarm for mobility-assistive devices.

Physically-challenged and elderly people often rely on these devices, such as walking frames or wheelchairs, for balance and mobility.

If the user falls or is in distress, it might be difficult to alert caretakers or others around them.

The mobility-aid alarm addresses this by sounding a siren when triggered by the separation of a magnetic contact when the user falls.

Nishka Ramkhelawan from Ladysmith High School