Monday, September 19, 2016

Science Fair Rock Star: Mansha Fatima

This is the fifth in an ongoing series highlighting some of the amazing young women participating in the 2016 Google Science Fair. (Here are the first, second, third and fourth posts.) Each has survived both the rigorous first pass and the second regional round, and have been named Global Finalist, meaning they have moved into the final round of competition. You can be sure I'll be watching the celebration event on September 27, 2016.

Rice is the staple food of over half the world's population. According to Wikipedia, rice provides as much as one-fifth of the calories humans consume, either as food they eat themselves or feed/fodder for their livestock. As such an important crop, it's surprising how little attention has been given to improving crop yields or environmental impacts.

Fifteen-year-old Mansha Fatima wanted to find out if using inexpensive automation systems would show an improvement in crop yields and a reduction in water usage, both of which would improve the lives of farmers in her home country, India.

For her 2016 Google Science Fair project, "Automated Water Management and Monitoring System in Paddy Fields" she created a miniature rice paddy with an automated system to open and close the gates between the water reservoir and her fields. She knew that the water requirements for rice plants vary over the course of its growth period, and that opening and closing gates on large scale farms is time-sensitive and labor-intensive. She wanted to find an easy and cost-efficient way to automate this process, and then see if it improved crop outputs.

She set the automated gate system to track the age of the rice planted in terms of days and devised a routine for applying the optimum amount of water at precisely the right time during plant growth.

As it turns out, she was on the right track. Her experimental rice farm showed both an improvement in water usage and crop production. By using inexpensive and easily-accessible smart devices – 4-Ultrasonic sensors, 5-Servomotors, LCD Module, Real Time Clock (RTC), GSM Module and the heart of the project, Arduino Due – to monitor, control, and maintain the water level in the paddies, she was able to show a nearly 13% increase in rice production, and an astounding 30% decrease in water usage. That is a remarkable improvement!

Like many of the Google Science Fair participants, Mansha lives in two spaces at once -- the present and the future. She wants to be on the leading edge of technology while looking for ways to apply its benefits to the everyday lives of the people around her. It is young scientists like this that give me hope for the future.

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