The incredible young finalists of the 2017 BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards are tackling the challenges of tomorrow, today.

Sydney teen invents device to reduce drownings

While working as a lifeguard at a public swimming pool in Sydney, teenager Maddison King came up with an invention that won her a coveted place in the finals of the 2017 BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards.

2017 BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards finalist Maddison King at the beach with her invention

2017 BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards finalist Maddison King at the beach with her invention

The pool where Maddison worked brought in a rip simulator to teach water safety to kids. It was while watching the kids struggling to escape the powerful rips that she began thinking that if swimmers knew where dangerous rips were then they wouldn't swim there and lives could be saved.

Rips are deceptively placid sea waters that lure people to swim in what are actually treacherous currents. They are responsible for the deaths of an average of 21 Australian swimmers a year. Ninety percent of beach rescues are of swimmers who get into trouble in rips.

Maddison figured the energy of the rips could be harnessed to power a warning light to alert swimmers to the dangers in that stretch of sea. Once she had the idea, she built the device which she calls Clever GIRL (Global Intelligent Rip Locator).

"The potential energy in the rip is transformed to kinetic energy when the rip speed spins the turbine underneath the water. This turbine is attached to a generator in the buoy, so the kinetic energy is transformed into electrical energy," explains Maddison.

"This electrical energy then powers the light at the top of the buoy, giving an instant warning that a rip is underneath and swimmers should not swim there."

The 17-year-old, who has just graduated from high school, is one of 26 Australian teenagers who have been chosen as finalists in the country's longest running and most prestigious school science and engineering awards.

The BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards are a proving ground for the next generation of Australian scientists and inventors. The Awards reward young people who have undertaken practical research projects that demonstrate innovative approaches and thorough scientific or engineering procedures.

The finalists compete for a range of prizes including the chance to represent Australia at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in the United States in May 2017. The winners will be announced at a ceremony in Melbourne on 7 February 2017.

"I'm very proud of what the Awards aim to achieve in encouraging students to explore, research and delight in the study of science, and challenge their understanding of the world around them," said Karen Wood, Chairman of the BHP Billiton Foundation.

Other finalists include brothers Declan and Callum Predavec who also focused on safety with their invention. They developed a laser system that warns cars if they get too close to bicycles on shared roads.

Also in the running are projects from household robots and drones capable of carrying parcels, to scientific research into soil salinity, antibiotic resistant bacteria and potential interventions to prevent diabetes.

"STEM drives innovation globally but in Australia the participation and engagement in STEM subjects by school students is declining. These Awards are an innovative and inspiring way to connect with future STEM professionals and encourage them to join us in tackling the challenges of tomorrow. The work that these students have done is truly inspiring and I have high hopes for the future of Australia," said CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall.

The Awards have been running since 1981 and are a partnership between the BHP Billiton Foundation, CSIRO and the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA).

Check out all of the 2017 finalists and their incredible projects.

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