Every day, thousands of weather balloons are produced around the world using radiosondes to measure pressure, relative humidity and temperature. However, balloons are not environmentally friendly, in part because they are made from non-recyclable materials such as latex. Plus, there’s a lot of waste.

After a few hours in the air, the weather balloon bursts and his radiosonde falls to the ground on a parachute. Of the 75,000 radiosondes launched annually in the US, only 20 percent are detected and returned, according to the National Weather Service. The cost of replacing them increases.

Amon Schumann, a senior student at Berlin’s Robert-Havemann Gymnasium, has invented environmentally friendly and economical solutions.

A young man is holding a device called a radiosonde.
The Amon Schumann radiosonde for weather balloons is equipped with a solar battery and GPS.Lynn Bowlby

Schuman built a coin-sized, solar-powered radiosonde that weighs 4.8 grams — much more compact than current models, which weigh about 96 grams. The weather balloon he developed can stay in the air longer than traditional models.

His “Small Radiosondes for a Great Mission” project was presented in May at the Regeneron International Science and Technology Fair in Atlanta.

At a special awards ceremony, Schuman was caught off guard when it was announced that his project had won the IEEE Presidents’ Scholarship. The award was established by the IEEE Foundation to recognize a deserving student for a project that demonstrates an understanding of electrical or electronic engineering, computer science, or another area of ​​IEEE interest. The scholarship is provided on behalf of the educational activities of the IEEE and is paid for four years of study at the university. Shuman also received a free student membership to the IEEE. Susan K. “Kathy” Land, 2021 IEEE President, presented Schuman with this year’s fellowship.

“Compared to launching 2,000 to 5,000 balloons that only stay in the air for two to three hours, my balloon can stay in the air for 52 days.”

Schumann was motivated to improve radiosondes and weather balloons during a visit to the local meteorological museum. There he learned that radiosondes had not changed significantly in the past 100 years.

Ecologicaly clean

Due to the increase in air pressure at high altitudes, weather balloons burst at an altitude of about 35 kilometers. To solve this problem, Schumann used layers of foil welded together, as well as a heated Teflon wheel, to create a balloon that could withstand great heights.

“Compared to launching 2,000 to 5,000 balloons that only stay in the air for two to three hours, my balloon can stay in the air for 52 days, so fewer balloons need to be launched,” he says.

Its radiosonde provides several times more measurement data per day compared to traditional bi-weekly launches. The radiosondes are equipped with a solar-powered battery that is about 20 grams lighter than a lithium battery.

Shuman also developed a camera expansion module to record additional data such as cloud formation.

“The camera can take aerial photographs of clouds,” he says, “which allows us to see their formation and relationships more accurately than a traditional radar system.”

He added GPS to track his radiosonde in real time. The radiosonde’s location is being uploaded to its balloon flight tracker, which it hopes will be useful to those who need weather data.

The software he developed allows real-time transmission of radio weather data packets from his radiosonde to an analysis unit in his house. The data is then sent to the Citizen Weather Observer Program volunteer network. From there it is sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for possible use in general weather forecasting.

Schumann says he plans to study electrical engineering at the Technical University in Berlin.

brain-computer interface

This year, second place went to Navya Ramakrishnan, a student at Plano Senior High School in Texas. Its interface uses brain signals to perform household tasks, such as turning on the TV.

Ramakrishnan’s brain-computer interface was developed for people with paralysis and neuromuscular disorders, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. She says she was inspired by a machine Stephen Hawking built that used his eye movements to communicate.

“That was definitely the starting point when I was thinking about how to build a universal communication machine for ALS patients,” says Ramakrishnan. Instead of eye movements, she used brain waves measured by an EEG headset to measure activity.

A student with a lanyard indicating that she has become an ISEF finalist.
Runner-up Navya Ramakrishnan developed a brain-computer interface to help people with paralysis and neuromuscular disorders perform household tasks such as turning on the TV. Lynn Bowlby

She found that a burst of EEG data, the P300 signal, occurs in response to an event. Using a computer monitor, she created a visual display of commonly used home automation command phrases. The BCI system is connected to the home circuit that controls lighting, appliances and more. The command is carried out by wireless transmission of the part of the circuit responsible for this task.

When users see the command they want flash on the monitor, they count in their mind until it stops, which causes a reaction and creates a P300 signal. The BCI system determines exactly which command is lit at the moment the signal occurs.

“Let’s say the user wants to turn on the light. Every time the command “Turn on the lights” flashes on the screen, I ask them to count in their minds,” she explains. “Counting will result in ‘Oh, here turn on the light command, reaction, and it will cause a burst of EEG data.

“Essentially what my system does,” she says, “is ask the question, ‘Where did these P300 signals come from?’ Because their appearance means that the user simply reacted to the command that flashed on the screen.

Ramakrishnan said she will go to Harvard this year to earn a degree in computer science with a focus on mind, brain and behavior.

Leukemia detection

Adele Jia Xin Yong, a student at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, placed third for her Smart Leukemia Labs project. Her portable microscope and diagnostic tool accurately and quickly detects acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

A female student holds a black portable microscope and a diagnostic tool.
Adele Jia Xin Yong won third place for her portable microscope and diagnostic tool that accurately and quickly detects acute lymphoblastic leukemia from a drop of blood.Lynn Bowlby

The invention is compatible with smartphones. The nozzle enlarges a drop of blood on a glass slide with a diameter of 0.5 mm up to 1000 times. The application, which uses object detection, image recognition, and semantic segmentation, identifies abnormal blood cells to diagnose leukemia.

Yong says her invention combines her passion for helping society and improving access to healthcare.

“I had a friend in seventh grade who unfortunately had leukemia,” she says. “When I saw her undergoing treatment, I wondered how people who didn’t have access to her technology could get treated or even diagnosed.”

Yong’s diagnostic tool is for those who live in underserved areas. It costs about $28 to make and uses inexpensive materials, most of which can be found at home, such as a metal pin and a tiny plastic tube.

According to her, when Yong heard her name at the fair, she was shocked.

“ISEF is a really big deal,” she says. “I was pleased with my invention, but did not know that I would win something. I’m just overjoyed.”

Yoon’s father introduced her to engineering. In 2020, she learned to code by watching YouTube videos.

She founded GStar, a club in her high school that aims to empower women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

She says she hopes to go to medical school and become a doctor. Its goal is to turn its patented prototype into a viable product with the help of manufacturers and laboratories.