Google begins search for teenage geniuses

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The Independent Tech

Future Einsteins of the world, Google needs you. The California internet giant already has a reputation for progressive recruitment policies with its bean bag culture, lava lamp filled offices and insistence that engineers spend 20 per cent of their year working on something that interests them.

Now they’re looking for a new breed of employee: teenage geniuses. Google has announced the launch of an online global science fair allowing any student with an internet connection and a Google account to take part in a competitive event with a $50,000 prize.

Billed as the “first global online science competition”, the Google Science Fair is open to anyone aged between 13 and 18 in any corner of the world.

Students are encouraged to submit an idea for a scientific experiment by 4 April with the winners flown out to California to pitch their idea to a roundtable of some of the world’s leading scientific luminaries.

In a blog post announcing the competition the company said scientifically gifted youths should be encouraged to display their talents: "How many ideas are lost because people don't have the right forum for their talents to be discovered?”

But anyone thinking the standard science fair baking soda volcano will pass muster is likely to be disappointed. To give an idea of what kind of talent they are after, Google posted an example submission from a high school senior from Oregon who claims to have come up with an algorithm that could enable a robot to negotiate its way through a hospital carrying linen sheets.

“According to Veterans Affairs staff, up to 50% of a nurse's day is spent transporting patient care items,” the submission states. “To aid nurses, fully autonomous robotic transporters driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI) could access the entire hospital and make simple deliveries for nurses, giving them more time to deliver patient care.”

The competition is being supported by other leading scientific outlets including National Geographic, Scientific American magazine and the CERN institute, the pan-European physics laboratory currently in pursuit of the Higgs boson particle.

The finalists will be flown out to California and judged by an impressive panel of scientific minds including Vint Cerf, one of the founding fathers of the World Wide Web, and National Geographic's explorer-in-residence, the geneticist Spencer Wells.

At the fair’s launch in New York earlier this week, Cerf gave a brief history of how the Internet came to be, stating that great ideas don’t “just happen”. Instead they require a good idea followed by hypothesis, experiments, failure and more experiments. For those put off by the idea that there are few good ideas left he added: “[Remember] 95% of the universe is unknown to us. It's all Tabula rasa.”

Samantha Peter, Google’s product marketing manager for education, said the idea to hold a science fair had been floating around company headquarters for a few years.

“It’s a scientific competition that will allow kids to compete globally. A child in India can go up against a child in Ireland, someone in the United Kingdom could take on someone in the United States. We want to seek out and celebrate scientific talent. We want young scientists to be celebrated as rock stars in the same way that athletes and pop stars are.”

Asked whether Google would retain the intellectual property rights to any world changing idea an entrant might come up with she replied: “The kid owns the idea but we do have literature in our rules that allows us to publish the idea and publicise the project.”

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