Finding new ways to treat cancer, generating energy from bacteria and using crabs to figure out if Everglades restoration is working are just some of the research projects done by South Florida students to punch their tickets to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, known as ISEF.
"The best thing about being here is we're in a room with the future," said Felipe Gomez Del Campo, a senior at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, who did his research on making jet engines more fuel efficient. "All these kids have the potential to change the world, and that's very exciting."
The fair changes locations annually. This year's event is this week in Pittsburgh. By any measure, it's an extraordinary display of scientific brilliance: 1,549 high school students from all over the United States and 70 other countries converge to display their work in one location.
"You find you have a lot in common with kids from around the world, it's a celebration of science," said Renuka Ramchandran, a junior at Ferguson High School in Kendall. she researched the ability of plant compounds to kill cancer cells.
This year, 10 students are representing South Florida, five each from Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
"It's amazing to be part of this experience with so many brilliant people who have so much in common," said Jamie Odzer, a sophomore at Michael Krop High School in Northeast Miami-Dade, who did her project on Everglades restoration.
"The camaraderie they experience with other students, the level of science, the way the kids network is extraordinary," says Sebastian Oddone, Miami-Dade's science fair director. This is his third time taking a group of students to ISEF.
Barbara Rapoza has brought Broward's contingent to ISEF for the past six years and never stops marveling at the inspiration and motivation this experience instills in young students.
"They really don't get the whole scope of science, how it impacts their communities and the world, until they come here," Rapoza explained.
As part of the ISEF experience, the students interact and learn from accomplished scientists, including eight Nobel Prize winners. Rubbing elbows with the superstars of science is a heady experience for a bunch of high school kids, says Jack Erdozain, a student at Westminster Christian School in Palmetto Bay.
"ISEF has expanded my view of science research, it exposes all of us to the bigger world of science," Erdozain said. The junior's project showed how electricity can be derived from bacteria.
Miguel Paredes, a student at American Heritage School in Plantation, says the best part of the week-long competition is, "being able to talk to prominent scientists in my field, I've learned so much." Paredes' research is in trying to find a treatment for Lou Gehrig's Disease, ALS.
The world's largest high school science research competition ends Friday, when awards are handed out. Whether they take home hardware at this point is almost irrelevant. Every student has already won just by being here.
As Michael Krop High student Benjamin Englard, who developed what he claims is a faster, more secure alternative to Twitter, says, "this has been a great, great experience for all of us."