When you hear the term science fair you might picture last minute projects that are hastily pulled together and explained with bright posterboard and marker. Or you might think about the much imitated baking soda and vinegar volcano. But what if a science fair project can actually do more? What if it can even break new ground and make a difference in its discipline? The five science fair projects below have done just that. As you read about them, prepare to be amazed and to reconsider what science fair projects can accomplish.

Understanding Barriers To Ovarian Cancer Treatment

Since 2011, the search engine giant and tech company Google has been holding its own science fair that is open to students throughout the world. The fair is free and prizes are substantial, including tens of thousands of dollars in scholarship prizes, a trip to see the Lego factory in Denmark, and a chance to explore the world with National Geographic or Scientific American.

In the first contest ever held, Shree Bose, a 17-year-old and veteran science fair participant, studied why ovarian cancer can sometimes be resistant to the effects of chemotherapy treatment. Her research found that an enzyme called activated protein kinase makes ovarian cancer cells harder to treat. Now the scientific community is making use of her findings and Bose has gone on to higher levels of success and learning in her own life. She has interned at the National Institute of Health and received the chance to study molecular and cellular biology at Harvard.

Helping Alzheimer’s Patients To Stay Safe

Another Google Science Fair project was submitted by Kenneth Shinozuka in 2014. Inspired by his grandfather, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and had begun to wander, Shinozuka looked at a way to detect his grandfather’s movements at night when his whereabouts were more difficult to track. What was Shinozuka’s solution? He created a sensor for his grandfather’s foot that would detect walking. The sensor had to be able to send a remote signal when the right kind of pressure was applied to it and it had to be thin, flexible, and durable enough to step on. Shinozuka created some prototypes and then worked with his grandfather to test it for six months. Ultimately, he developed a sensor that successfully detected 437 cases of his grandfather’s wandering episodes 100% of the time. It alerted his family to his grandfather’s movements within seconds and provided them with peace of mind that he was ok at night.

Killing Anthrax While Still Inside An Envelope

Receiving an envelope with the deadly nerve agent Anthrax is a nightmare scenario and in 2006 fears of Anthrax were running especially high. That year, student Mark Roberge, whose father was an expert on biological warfare agents, wanted to study how to decontaminate the nerve agent. The results of his science fair project on the topic were so groundbreaking that they were published in the journal of medical toxicology. Roberge conducted his experiment using a bacterial spore from the Anthrax family that experts like his father commonly use in their own research. The spore is similar to Anthrax but without the harmful impacts. As he worked with the spore to see what would kill it, he came across a simple tool that is available in almost every American home–a clothing iron. Usually used to press the wrinkles out of clothing, te found that when the iron was set to 400 degrees and applied to the spore, it rendered the toxin harmless.

Finding A Less Expensive Fuel For Space Travel

Space travel is never going to be cheap. But considering that one of the most expensive parts of space travel is the fuel, developing less costly ways to power a rocket is one way to bring the budget for going into space a little more down to earth. In her science fair project, 14-year-old space travel junkie Erika DeBenedictis did just that.  After considerable research, DeBenedictis theorized that the costs of space travel could be reduced if ships were allowed to make use of space currents that were connected to other planets and celestial bodies. She compared this possibility to the way that sailboats use the wind and ocean currents to propel themselves. Her theory was credible enough to win the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search.

Helping The Government To Save $136 Million A Year

In his science fair experiment, middle school student Suvir Mirchandani looked at a way to improve environmental sustainability by limiting the amount of paper and ink that are wasted by all kinds of institutions. His project uncovered an unexpected and simple way to make a huge difference–change the font that companies are using. Mirchandani’s work found that, using a 12 point type size as a basis of comparison. if companies used the font Garamond instead of more commonly used fonts like Times New Roman, Century Gothic, and Comic Sans, they can save both ink and money. How much money? The student calculated that the federal government alone could save $136 million a year and his school district could save $21,000 annually.

Mirchandani’s process was simple but thorough. He collected random samples of his teachers’ printed handouts and focused on evaluating the space taken up by the most commonly used letters: e, t, a, o, and r. He used a computer-based tool to measure how much ink was used by the production of each letter and carefully verified his findings for each letter. He published his findings in the Journal For Emerging Investigators, a periodical that is founded by a group of Harvard Grad Students in order to provide a forum for the work of middle and high school students.