Aussie high school student wins top prize at International Science and Engineering Fair

Oliver Nicholls

“Oliver Nicholls”

2018 BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Award winner Oliver Nicholls has taken home the top prize and $US75,000 as winner of the Gordon E. Moore Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) announced in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Friday night.

The 19-year-old from Barker College in Sydney secured the win with his fully-autonomous robotic window cleaner that is designed to reduce human injury and decrease the costs of window cleaning on medium rise commercial buildings. The small robotic device uses drones, motors and propellers to navigate building facades and clean windows using water and micro-fibre scrubbers.

Australian students excelled at the international competition, with five of Australia’s 2018 BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Awards finalists securing a total of 11 major award wins against a field of over 1800 high school students from 75 countries.

CSIRO Education and Outreach Director Mary Mulcahy said it was another example of Australia’s great science being recognised on the global stage.

“Australia is one of the best places in the world to start a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). By having our high school students winning international awards, we are further strengthening our international reputation as an innovative country,” Ms Mulcahy said.

BHP Billiton Foundation Executive Director James Ensor said seeing Australian high school students winning at an international level would inspire others to pursue independent research projects.

“Studying STEM topics fosters innovative thinking and problem solving abilities that will help to address sustainable development challenges,” Mr Ensor said.

“We believe that by supporting STEM education and achievement in young people, we are investing in Australia’s future problem solvers.”

The BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Award finalists attended Intel ISEF as part of the BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Awards Australian delegation and STANSW’s Young Scientist delegation.

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), a program of Society for Science & the Public is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. Each year over 1800 high school students from more than 75 countries, regions, and territories are awarded the opportunity to showcase their independent research and compete for on average $4 million in prizes. The BHP Billiton Foundation and Intel Foundation provide support for the BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Awards Australian delegation attending the fair.

BHP Billiton Foundation Science and Engineering Award winners at Intel ISEF:

Oliver Grant Nicholls, Barker College, NSW, Australia

  • 1st place overall, Gordon E. Moore Award, with a prize value of $US75,000
  • 1st place and Best in Category in the Physical Sciences Robotics and Intelligent Machines category
  • IEEE Foundation Second Place Award
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration Second Award of $US750

Project: Autonomous window cleaning robot for commercial high rise buildings
Oliver Nicholls combined his knowledge in mathematics, physics and design to design an autonomous robotic window cleaner. His design aims to reduce injury and decrease the commercial costs of window cleaning. The final product went through rigorous prototyping, testing and evaluation to show commercial viability.
Video and interview:

Angelina Arora, Sydney Girls High School, NSW, Australia

  • 4th place in Physical Sciences, Environmental Engineering category.
  • Angelina also won a scholarship to Arizona University.

Project: Shrimp Shell Bioplastics: A new solution to the world’s growing plastic problem
Concerned about the damage plastics do to the environment, especially the ocean, Angelina Arora set out to develop a bioplastic made from prawn shell and sticky protein from the silk of silkworms. The plastic completely degrades leaving nothing harmful behind. She tested the strength, elongation, clarity, solubility, deconstruction and endurance of the plastic as well as other plastics made out of potato, corn and tapioca. Angelina hopes this plastic could replace current plastic shopping bags and other packaging to reduce the environmental impact in landfill and in the ocean.
Video and interview:

Caitlin Roberts, Friends School, Hobart, Tas, Australia

  • 3rd place in the Life Sciences, Biomedical Sciences category.

Project: The protease inhibiting effect of almonds
Caitlin’s project looked at the digestive properties of almonds. She compared the rate of protein digestion of skim milk when either activated or natural almonds were consumed and how this process occurs. This research contributes to a body of research aimed at understanding how nutritional intake can be optimised.
Video and interview:

Jade Moxey and Macinley Butson, Sapphire Coast Anglican College, NSW, and The Illawarra Grammar School, NSW

  • 3rd Place in the Physical Sciences, Environmental Engineering category
  • King Abdul-Aziz & his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity $US20,000 Scholarship for Sustainable Initiatives with Water Technology
  • Qatar Foundation, Research & Development First Award of $US1000

Project: The SAS System (Sanitation and Sterilisation)
Jade and Macinley worked together on a portable sanitation and sterilisation system to provide both clean potable drinking water and sterile water for medical use. It also has the potential to be used in emergency response and disaster relief situations.
Video and interview:


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