Raymond Wang, 17, won first prize at the world's largest high school science fair in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Friday. He created a new air circulation system to isolate and eliminate germs in aircraft cabins, in order to reduce travellers' exposure to disease.
"It's truly amazing," Wang said after winning the award. "After doing many national fairs, I've always wanted to be here. Not only that, but to be recognized as having one of the top projects is truly mind-blowing."
Eleven Canadian students won prizes at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which featured 1,700 young scientists from across the world. Wang won the prestigious Gordon E. Moore Award, named in honour of the Intel co-founder.
Wang, a Grade 11 student at St. George's School, said he was inspired to look into epidemics after the recent Ebola outbreak. Although Ebola is not spread through the air, he came across some frightening statistics about other diseases, including that a plane traveller with H1N1 can potentially spread pathogens to 17 other passengers.
"I started to look into, 'Why isn't anyone doing anything about this?' I came across very limited research in terms of previous work to model air flow alone, just in cabins, much less trying to find any solutions to the problem," he said.
So the teenager set about finding a solution and was able to generate the industry's first high-resolution simulation of air flow inside commercial aircraft cabins, he said. He then applied some modifications to redirect the air to give everyone their own breathing space.
The results were a decrease in pathogen inhalation by about 55 times per passenger and a 190 per cent improvement in fresh air inhalation, he said.
"In the future, (this will) curb disease spread no matter where people are sitting in the cabin. So we can really effectively reduce the risk of future epidemics," Wang said.
He's already filed for a patent and hopes to use the prize money to further his research. He said his invention, which he calls an "air flow inlet director," could be installed overnight for the cost of the average passenger's airline ticket.
Another Vancouver teen, Nicole Ticea, won the Intel Foundation Young Scientist award and received a prize of US$50,000 for her disposable and electricity-free HIV testing device.
The easy-to-use tool provides results in an hour and should cost less than US$5 to produce. Ticea has already founded her own company, which recently received a US$100,000 grant to continue developing the technology.
The 16-year-old York House student said she created the device to help combat the high rate of undiagnosed HIV in low-income communities.
"Over time, I really realized there was a story to be told with this entire HIV epidemic that not only involved how we create better testing, but: 'How do we make testing more accessible? How do we get individuals to actually submit and want to be tested?'" she said. "It's very interesting and very complex."
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