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Young Scientists Feature Projects At 2016 White House Science Fair


We talk to a lot of impressive people on this program. And some days, we hear from young thinkers who leave us excited about the future. Well, that was the case today when we talked to a couple of the more than 100 students who were in Washington for the White House Science Fair. We started with 17-year-old Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna of Elmont, N.Y.

AUGUSTA UWAMANZU-NNA: It's such an honor to be here at the White House Science Fair today to be able to share, like, what really makes me happy and my first love and my first passion, which is cement.

SIEGEL: Well, that's - first of all, that's one of the most passionate statements about cement that I've heard on this program. Well, tell us about your project that brings you to the White House Science Fair.

UWAMANZU-NNA: The 2010 Gulf oil spill was caused by an inadequate cement seal. So cement is used to seal an offshore drill, so my goal was to engineer a new cement seal. And I added attapulgite, which is a type of clay, to enhance the flowability of the cement, but also enhance the structure rebuilding, or how solid it becomes when it fills the oil well. So ultimately I found that the clays did enhance both of these properties, especially under the simulated high-pressure conditions of an oil well.

SIEGEL: Just out of curiosity, is this something that you figure you've - you will complete and then move on to other big questions? Or do you imagine college being a time of still pursuing that passion for cement?

UWAMANZU-NNA: I do hope to. I think the ultimate takeaway from conducting research with cement for three years is the importance of sustainable infrastructure development. So one of the things I want to do is actually share this knowledge because, frankly, I thought cement was just rocks and water in 10th grade. I didn't understand that cement and concrete had this great application and immense application. So I definitely want to communicate with people and share this knowledge because this knowledge has definitely opened my mind. Throughout college, I hope to, yes, continue to pursue sustainable development - sustainable infrastructure development - and not only limited to cement, but just all infrastructure, you know, worldwide, as it is a very important facet in the world.

SIEGEL: Well, Augusta, thanks a lot for talking with us today.

UWAMANZU-NNA: You are welcome.

SIEGEL: By the way, the high school senior has a big decision to make about college. She was accepted by all eight Ivy League schools. Our next science star is Annie Ostojic of Munster, Ind. She is 13. And here's how her project came about.

ANNIE: So basically, I was one day with my dad, and we were trying to microwave some food - just a frozen food meal. And you've probably experienced this before, where the inside of my dish was cold with ice slivers in it, but the outer perimeter was completely cooked already. It was warm. And I realized it used a lot of energy. The microwave oven isn't the most efficient appliance out there, really. So I basically am proposing that industry should use a new microwave oven design, where you'd be able to reflect the energy from the corners to the uncooked parts of the food. So I currently have a provisional and in the process of finalizing the patent. And basically, this is a new, novel microwave cavity design, which is a rounded rectangle shape.

SIEGEL: Now all this was inspired by your dad trying to cook a frozen meal in the microwave. Is your dad an accomplished cook? Is he very good in the kitchen?

ANNIE: (Laughter) No. It was a frozen pasta meal. And we were kind of pressed for time and so it was taking a lot more time than I originally thought (laughter).

SIEGEL: Have you heard anything from any microwave manufacturer about your design?

ANNIE: No. I'm hoping, probably, to reach out to some of them because I have 3-D models - 3-D prints of them. And hopefully I can get to a manufacture out there at some point, but I think it would be really neat if we are able to save energy this way.

SIEGEL: Will, Annie, thank you so much. First, congratulations on being included in the White House Science Fair. And thanks for talking with us about your project.

ANNIE: Thank you for your time.

SIEGEL: Thirteen-year-old Annie Ostojic - and before that, we heard from Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna. Both exhibited their projects at today's White House Science Fair. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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