Sammy Nickalls
September 23, 2015 8:49 am

For a lot of students, the science fair is just another project you need to participate in to graduate. But for Connecticut 16-year-old Olivia Hallisey, it’s so, so much more. And that’s clear based on the fact that she TOTALLY kicked ass yesterday with her entry in the Google Science Fair. Olivia won the grand prize — a $50,000 scholarship — over 22 other teen finalists. Her project was, Temperature-Independent, Portable, and Rapid Detection of Ebola Via a Silk-Derived Lateral-Flow System.

If that crazy-long name meant absolutely nothing to you, don’t worry. Essentially, it’s a test for Ebola. Currently, tests for Ebola need refrigeration to keep chemicals stable, and they take up to 12 hours to yield results. Not the most ideal conditions for such a serious virus — especially one in which timing is critical; the sooner you start to treat Ebola, the more likely the patient is to survive. Oh, and on top of that, the kits needed to test for Ebola cost $1,000 a pop and “require complex instrumentation [and] trained medical professionals to administer,” according to Olivia’s project description.

For her winning project, Olivia may have completely changed how we diagnose Ebola. Her test, “provides rapid, inexpensive, accurate detection of Ebola viral antigens based on color change within 30 minutes in individuals prior to their becoming symptomatic and infectious,” according to the description. Yeah, that’s right — a teen may have just developed a method to test a serious illness that’s not only cheap ($25) and takes only half an hour to work, but can also detect the virus before the subject has even started showing symptoms. You know, NBD.

So what’s the big factor that differentiates her method of testing from the current method? In a word, silk. Essentially, silk fibers stabilize the chemicals, granting the test the ability to sit at room temperature for up to three weeks and still work just fine. Of course, it’s important to note that Olivia wasn’t able to test a real person with Ebola, but she showed that her test could detect a protein from the virus.

“I’m thrilled for Olivia,” Olivia’s science research teacher, Andrew Bramante, told Greenwich Time. “She deserves all the praise she’s getting for her hard work, dedication and ingenuity. Her project cuts to the core of some medical diagnoses that we need in parts of the world where Ebola is most prevalent.”  

Olivia was inspired to focus on Ebola for her project after the 2014 outbreak in Africa. “The concentration of fatalities in Ebola stricken areas has left many children orphaned, and the socioeconomic fabric of entire villages destroyed,” Olivia explained in Google’s Spotlight On A Young Scientist. “Early diagnosis and proper medical care are critical to containing and eliminating the spread of Ebola and any other contagious illnesses.” She also was inspired by her late grandfather, a doctor and medical researcher who, “showed [her] the power of science.”

Her advice for other teens and kids who want to delve into the science field? “Think globally,” she said. “Reconsider existing solutions and always ask ‘Why not?’ Don’t think that everything that can be done has been done. There’s always room for innovation and creative reconsideration. Everyone has a role in change.”

You certainly made that clear, Olivia, with your super rad project that could change the world as we know it. You rock, Olivia — as well as all of the young scientists in the Google Science Fair who are following their curiosity and passion and achieving ridiculously amazing things in science.

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[Image via Twitter]

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