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Concerned about the global food crisis, Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey, and Sophie Healy-Thow were compelled to study the impact of bacteria on crop growth.

Their findings—that naturally occurring strains of certain bacteria could significantly speed up crop growth and increase crop yield—may certainly contribute to the fight against global hunger.

The research is impressive even without considering that Judge, Hickey, and Healy-Thow are just 16 years old.

The three teenagers from Ireland won the Grand Prize at the fourth-annual Google Science Fair, whose results were announced this fall. As Grand Prize winners, the teens will share a $50,000 Google scholarship and receive a 10-day trip to the Galápagos Islands sponsored by National Geographic, a personalized LEGO prize from LEGO Education, and the chance to participate in astronaut training at the Virgin Galactic Spaceport in the Mojave Desert.

Thousands of students ages 13 to 18 from more than 90 countries submitted entries by the May deadline to the 2014 Google Science Fair, an online science competition for solo entrants and teams of up to three people. After whittling down the contestants to 18 finalists in early August, a panel of judges assessed student presentations at Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters in September to determine the overall winner and standouts in several categories.

Among other amazing inventions created by teens: a flying robot for potential use in search-and-rescue missions; sand filters designed to filter toxic substances from pond water; and low-cost wearable sensors designed for Alzheimer’s patients that alert caregivers via smartphone when the wearer gets out of bed and begins to wander.

The Google competition, however, cannot claim a monopoly on impressive young scientists. We’ve got plenty of them right here in Pittsburgh, including 17-year-old Ananya Cleetus—a student at Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh—who made headlines with her invention, a robotic prosthetic hand, which she brought to the 2014 White House Science Fair in late May.

Her project was inspired by summer visits to her grandparents’ home in India. While volunteering there and touring the Jaipur Foot foundation, a nonprofit that develops artificial limbs, she realized the critical need for low-cost artificial limbs for amputees—especially those affected by the stigmatizing disease leprosy.

Internships at the University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Laboratories and the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, as well as experience in competitive robotics, gave her the background she needed to develop her own solution to the problem. Using materials from the Robotics Institute along with Arduino sensors she purchased, Cleetus designed a robotic control system for a 3-D MakerBot-printed hand created from InMoov open-source computer-aided design files.

Cleetus

Cleetus hopes the affordable robotic hand she developed will increase the accessibility of effective prosthetics. In that spirit, she has decided not to seek a patent for her invention.

Although she still has a few years to decide on a profession, Cleetus sees a promising future in biomedical engineering. “It’s a good combination of science and technology,” she said. “As much as I like other fields of science, I enjoy seeing the impact science has on other people.”