The XX Factor

How the Google Science Fair Girls Found Their Calling

Photograph by Andrew Federman/Google.

Earlier this week, the winners of this year’s inaugural Google Science Fair winners were announced. Besides some amazing science project, the three had one thing in common: They are all girls. I was lucky enough to speak to the three incredibly impressive young ladies: Shree Bose from Texas, the grand winner for age category 17-18; Naomi Shah from Oregon, 15-16 winner; and Lauren Hodge from Pennsylvania, winner of the 13-14 age category. Each weighed in on what it’s like to be a young science superstar.

Shree’s first science project was kind of a disaster. When she was in second grade, she participated in her school’s “Invention Convention.” Her project was gutsy: She wanted to find a way to entice kids to eat vegetables. Being her second grade self, she thought the green color was the reason that kids did not like their veggies. So, at the convention, she proudly presented a blue-food-color-stained, slightly withered spinach plant. Her peers and teachers laughed, but Shree decided that science was cool enough to stick with it.

Naomi discovered her love to science as a toddler while playing with Flubber at a local science museum. Other experiences she cited as formative to her science passion: During a chemistry class, she got to see her hand (protected in a solution!) covered in flames, without feeling a thing. A fan of watching things blow up, she also enjoyed launching rockets in Physics class. Had we known each other as kids, she would undoubtedly have been my hero.

Lauren’s interest in biology came young, too: At 5 years old, she asked her mother for a cadaver for Christmas. When her mother said that it was not possible, Lauren told her to order one on eBay. Her flabbergasted mother sent her to a center for gifted children, the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. It was at Davidson where, eight years later, she heard about the Google Science Fair and decided to apply.

All are still stunned by their victories. When the announcement came, the anxious contestants may have felt like they were in an odd game show. They watched photos of all finalists’ faces spin around on a massive screen, until, suddenly, three pictures popped up: theirs.

Shree won the Grand Prize with her insights to drug resistance in ovarian cancer; Naomi explored the link between air pollutants in respiratory diseases; and Lauren investigated how different marinating techniques can inhibit harmful heterocyclic amines in grilled chicken.

All three want to continue doing research. And they are ambitious, too. Naomi wants to see her environmental research implemented, even if that means that she has to do it herself. This spring, she sent her suggestions for revisions to the Clean Air Act to President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. She has not heard back. Yet.