Group of teenagers smiling on a boat in Zimbabwe.
USAID Science for Development Award 1st Place Winners in Climate and Environmental Protection (left to right) Stanley Madziyire, Omar Chinyanga, and Nyaradzo Mutiti. | Photo Credit: Omar Chinyanga, Stanley Madziyire, and Nyaradzo Mutiti

Young Scientists for Development

USAID encourages innovative ideas from scientists of all ages.

At USAID, we know that science can transform societies. We have used it to promote peace in conflict-fragile areas, forecast the impact of COVID-19 on food security, and boost the benefits of urban trees — to name just a few ways we use science for development.

This is why USAID has served as a Special Award Organization at the annual International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) since 2014.

At ISEF, we recognize innovative high school student projects in science and technology that could advance our ability to meet current and future development challenges with the USAID Science for Development Award.

These student projects are recognized with first place ($5,000), second place ($3,000), and third place ($2,000) awards in agriculture and food security, climate and environmental protection, global health, and working in crisis and conflict.

This year, future changemakers in international development showcased science projects with impressive potential. Let’s take a look at some of the young scientists who received the 2022 USAID Science for Development Award at ISEF.


Science award winner standing in front of project.
USAID Science for Development Award 2nd Place Winner in Agriculture and Food Security, Nathan Elias.

Agriculture and Food Security

2nd Place Winner: Nathan Elias (Texas, USA)

A Novel Method for Automated Identification and Prediction of Invasive Species Growth Using Deep Learning

Nathan Elias was motivated to help his grandfather after an invasive species — one that lives outside of its native environment and causes economic or ecological harm — destroyed his rice farm in India half a world away. His grandfather didn’t know that the plant was an invasive species and wasn’t sure what to do when it started growing. Invasive species — which include plants, bugs, and other organisms — are hard to detect, so Nathan created a system that uses technology and artificial intelligence to address the problem.


Teen scientist doing field work in a forest setting.
Nathan doing some field work.

Users can detect invasive species from their smartphone camera using a mobile app in real-time. These data are then sent to experts who validate the information. Through heat maps, users can also view potential future outbreaks of invasive species that have been forecasted by climate-adapting artificial intelligence models.

Since May 2022, the system has been deployed to 6,000 farmers in the United States and India, and has prevented more than 10,000 incidents of invasive species growth. Nathan has already used his USAID Science for Development Award winnings to send tablets and mobile phones to farmers in India, and plans to continue expanding and improving the database of invasive species.

He wants other students interested in science to know they’ll become better at it over time, so they shouldn’t be discouraged if they don’t understand everything at first.


Group of teenaged scientist standing in front of their presentation.
USAID Science for Development Award 1st Place Winners in Climate and Environmental Protection, Nyaradzo Mutiti (left), Stanley Madziyire (center) and Omar Chinyanga (right).

Climate and Environmental Protection

1st Place: Nyaradzo Mutiti, Omar Chinyanga, and Stanley Madziyire (Zimbabwe)

Development of a Low-Cost Highly Efficient Filter for Heavy Metal and Organic Contaminant Removal

Around the world, electronic waste is rapidly increasing. Nyaradzo Mutiti, Omar Chinyanga, and Stanley Madziyire decided to try and improve the situation in their home city of Harare, Zimbabwe.

Lake Chivero is the main source of the city’s water, but it is polluted with toxic metals. The trio created a filter that can remove high concentrations of toxic metals such as arsenic, iron, and copper from water. The filter is made from biodegradable materials and can be reused. They are ultimately planning to increase the filter’s absorption capabilities before presenting it to the city council. By doing so, the team is hoping to shift their focus from treating water to reducing water contamination.

All three rising high school seniors plan to pursue degrees in engineering or science. They encourage other students to continue to be curious and not be intimidated by complex scientific topics.


A group of people smiling at ISEF award conference.
USAID Science for Development Award 3rd Place winner in Global Health, Maggie Zhang (standing, second from left).

Global Health

3rd Place: Maggie Zhang (Kansas, USA)

The Effect of Polymer Coating on Taste-Masking Ability of AZT (HIV Drug) for Pediatric Oral Delivery

Maggie Zhang sought to optimize how the HIV drug called AZT is given to infants ages six to 12 weeks. While the drug is not a cure for HIV, it prevents the transmission of HIV from developing after possible exposure. Infants are given the liquid version of AZT, which is not optimal as they tend to spit up large amounts of liquid.

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Maggie created an oral thin film — similar to dissolvable breath mint strips — version of AZT for infants. She plans to continue researching and testing her project and also to eventually receive emergency use authorization from the World Health Organization. At ISEF, she enjoyed meeting other students who are passionate about science and global health. Maggie began studying biochemistry and global health at the University of Texas at Austin this fall.

She encourages other students who are interested in science to not be afraid to put themselves out there to find opportunities — it worked well for her.


A teenaged scientist smiles for the camera.
USAID Science for Development Award 1st Place in Working in Crisis and Conflict, Matthew Hansol Jabez Kim.

Working in Crisis and Conflict

1st Place: Matthew Hansol Jabez Kim (Georgia, USA)

Search and Rescue System Using Omni-Orientation Mapping Robots

Inspiration comes from many things. For Matthew Hansol Jabez Kim, he was inspired not only by a snake robot he saw in a comic book, but also by his dream to help people using science. When a disaster strikes and infrastructure crumbles, it can be difficult to locate survivors under collapsed buildings.

Matthew created a search and rescue robot for natural disasters that consists of modules that can break apart to search wider areas. His robot is designed to work efficiently in any type of environment by using modular units. Next, he plans to finalize the prototype of the search and rescue robot and develop a version for use in aquatic environments. After Matthew graduates from high school, he plans to pursue a degree in science or engineering.

Matthew advises other students interested in science to not be afraid of failure because they can learn from it.

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Climate, Development, Education
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