Students from Long Island and around the world gathered at Stony Brook University on Thursday to present their solutions to climate change, from converting rain water into electricity to using roof coatings to combat rising temperatures.
Taking the top prize of $10,000 at Thursday's Clean Tech science competition were two Long Island high school students —including last year's top finisher — whose work they believe could one day lead to an alternative energy source that is less dependent on fossil fuels.
Danielle Kelly, 17, of Woodbury, who will be a senior in the fall at Friends Academy in Locust Valley, and Audrey Shine,17, a rising senior at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School, won the contest with a project that focused on optimizing the performance of hydrogren fuel cells, which produce electricity with water as its only byproduct.
"With climate change just around the corner, we need to find an alternative source of energy fast and we need to make sure that it is clean and efficient," said Shine, who was part of a team that won last year with research on converting silkworm cocoons into low-cost water purification filters.
The competition, sponsored by Spellman High Voltage Electronics based in Hauppage, focused on the need to solve global environmental challenges through scientific methods. The contest drew nearly 550 entries from 39 different nations, including Peru, Ireland and Singapore. It was administered by The Center for Science Teaching & Learning, a non-profit based in Rockville Centre. Prize money totaled more than $30,000.
Ten finalists presented their work to a panel of entrepreneur judges.
RayAnn Havasy, director of the center, said student work was judged on whether it was original, solved a problem regarding climate change and was practical.
"Can this actually be something that can be used in the real world?" she said.
Shine, of Plainview, and Kelly have been conducting research at Stony Brook and are enrolled in the university's Garcia Center Summer Program, where students develop research projects and are mentored by faculty. Kelly had specialized in the study of hydrogen fuel cells and Shine focused on a derivative of graphene —one of the world's strongest materials —when the two decided to team up.
"We thought, 'Wow, we can really incorporate these two ideas,'" Kelly said.
Taken together, the two devised a way to make the hydrogen fuel cells more productive, a breakthrough that they say could have far-reaching ramifications.
Benjamin Liao of Palo Alto placed second, earning a prize of $7,500 with his research on thermochromic roof coatings, which change color in response to temperature — trapping heat on colder days and reflecting it on warmer days. And Eilíse Ireland, 17, of Cork, Ireland, was inspired by a rain-soaked walk home from school for her project — a machine made from plywood, bottle caps and old computer parts that demonstrated how rain water can be converted into electricity.
Ireland, who placed third with a $5,000 prize, said her country has experienced a number of extreme weather events. And, she said, "It's getting worse."
In addition to Kelly and Shine, a third young scientist from Long Island — Chestine Tomas, 17, of George W. Hewlett High School — also competed.
Tomas researched the impact of soil salinity on plant life, looking not only at how to make plants more tolerant to salt, but also how to improve the growth and fertility of plant life.
"As a younger generation, we should introduce solutions to these problems rather than standing by doing nothing," Tomas said.