The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) took place in Phoenix, Arizona this year. A total of 1760 (students) finalists attended from over 77 territories, including South Africa. As expected, a large chunk of these students are from the US (1081), while 679 have made their way from outside of the US. I love that 48% of these students are female, a percentage that is gradually increasing over the years.


So what are they competing for? Over $4-million in awards and scholarships. The grand prize is $75 000 from the Intel Foundation, while two additional research projects will receive $50 000. Other special prizes will be awarded by corporates, academics, government and science-focused sponsors to 600 projects. All include amazing opportunities, experiences and scholarships to various countries across the globe.

As far as I’m aware, seven South African students have been chosen to attend the event this year, sponsored by Eskom. I got to meet and chat to three of these students for a bit. They are Aryan Mootheeram, from Ladysmith and Brynn Cauldwell from Johannesburg, both 17 year-old grade 11 students; and Amber De Decker, a 15 year-old from Cape Town.

All of them entered the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, which took them from regional, to national, and now at an international level. All very bright and inspiring individuals who made sure to let us know that you didn’t have to win a gold prize back in South Africa to automatically get chosen by Intel to attend the fair. Amber herself was a silver winner and was selected. A total of 50 students back home were interviewed by Eskom, and judging criteria included presentation, display, creativity, personal speaking skills, and their use of scientific methods, amongst other things. This is great news for students back in South Africa – if you or your kids are budding scientists with great ideas, push them to participate!


Aryan says there are a lot of young scientists in South Africa that take part in the Eskom expo, and more than 200 students at his school entered. He says it’s a lot of hard work, which is daunting and intense – his project took two and a half years to complete, which falls under the Energy: Chemical category. He came up with a better way to deal with shack fires and the subsequent deaths due to suffocation. The result was developing a natural heater, a safer alternate to coal using ingredients that can be sourced locally, which is cheap, has 200% less CO2, and doesn’t produce an open flame, cutting down the chances of burning, leading in fires.

Meanwhile Amber entered in the Earth and Environmental Sciences category. Her project is around the myth about an indigenous bush in Cape Town caused by human disturbances, whereby if one touches it, and if exposed to the sun, you get blisters. She has disproved this. Brynn entered in the Environmental Engineering category. His project is about acid mines, with the idea that what if the opposite could happen. He used waste materials to raise the pH in water to make it useable. I don’t have the full scientific terms to describe all these projects, but this is just to give you an idea of what our South African students are capable of.

A special awards ceremony took place last night, and Brynn Cauldwell (from St Stithians Boys College in Johannesburg) for his sustainable solution was one of eight projects selected by United Technologies Corporation to receive stock to the value of $3000 from the company. These projects were selected for showing “excellence in science and engineering”. Congratulations Brynn!


The main awards ceremony took place a short while ago in Phoenix at the time of writing this post, and while South Africa didn’t feature in the main category awards, well done to all our finalists and congratulations to all students who took away a share of the $4m in prizes!