Naomi Shah, winner of the Google science fair in the 15-16 age group, isn't just a budding research scientist. She's also an environmentalist. And her project, which focuses on the effects of air quality triggers on asthma sufferers, highlights why other people should be environmentalists too.
Shah noticed that medical practitioners immediately prescribe steroids and other inhalers, instead of addressing the quality of the air asthma sufferers are breathing. That's because nobody had quantified how much air pollution affects lung function. So she did. Turns out particulate matter and volatile organic compounds make lung function worse (but CO2 and carbon monoxide don't). And now that Shah has data on exactly how big that effect is, physicians have something to go on if they want to suggest air quality interventions (like filters) instead of medication.
But while we're rooting hard for Shah as a kickass young scientist, she's even more awesome when she moves away from scientific objectivity and lets her green flag fly. "Air quality doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves, and should be one of the top sustainability goals for the coming future," she says in the above video — perhaps a small dig at efforts to undermine the Clean Air Act? Shah also describes herself as a "strong environmentalist," and says she wants to study environmental science and work in environmental public health. And in her project's abstract, the only one time when she sounds a little like a high schooler instead of a veteran researcher is when she gets exercised about the effects of environmental triggers on asthma sufferers. That's when the exclamation marks start to creep in:
Triggers cause one death every 20 seconds! This project is my sincere hope to increase awareness amongst all stakeholders in order to eliminate the environmental "triggers" that take these innocent lives.
Whether as a researcher improving treatment for asthma, or as an activist improving air quality for all, we're expecting big things from Naomi Shah. (And, of course, her fellow science fair winners Shree Bose and Lauren Hodge — you guys are all awesome.)