Sixteen-year-old Irish teens Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow’s Diazotroph bacteria project won them the age 15-16 age group and overall grand prize at the fourth annual Google Science Fair awards ceremony held on Tuesday.

The Diazotroph project addresses famine and food crises around the world. Judge, Hickey and Healy-Thow investigated the use of Diazotroph bacteria as a cereal crop germination and growth aid. Using naturally occurring Rhizobium strains of the Diazotroph bacteria family, the girls carried out a study of their impact on the germination rate and subsequent growth of the cereal crops wheat, oats and barley.

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“Detailed statistical analysis of our results indicated that these bacterial strains accelerated crop germination by up to 50%, and increased barley yields by 74%,” the girls explained on their project page. “Such a cereal crop performance improvement could significantly assist combatting the growing global food poverty challenge and reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture by reducing fertilizer use.”

As the grand prize winners, Judge, Hickey and Healy-Thow win a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands provided by National Geographic, a $50 000 (around R510 000) scholarship from Google, a personalized LEGO prize provided by LEGO Education and the chance to participate in astronaut training at the Virgin Galactic Spaceport in the Mojave desert.

The winners in the age group categories are:

Kenneth Shinozuka from the US won the The Scientific American Science in Action award for his wearable sensors project and Arsh Dilbagi from India received the Voter’s Choice award, which is voted for by the public, for his project Talk, which enables people with speech difficulties to communicate by simply exhaling.

“We started the Science Fair to inspire scientific exploration among young people and celebrate the next generation of scientist and engineers. And every year we end up amazed by how much you inspire us. So, keep dreaming, creating and asking questions. We look forward to hearing the answers,” said the Google Science Fair team.

[Image – YouTube]