Tag Archives: Science fair

UPDATE: Science team winners from Nablus meet with UN Secretary General

(NEW YORK, 18 May 2010)  – Three Palestinian girls from Nablus met with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon Tuesday in New York to discuss their participation in a global science fair in California last week.

The three girls, Aseel Abu Aleil, Aseel Alshaar and Noor Alarada, earned the “special award in applied electronics” out of 1,500 finalists in last week’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, considered the largest pre-college science fair in the world, bringing together “young geniuses” as the Secretary-General called the girls, Nobel Laureates, and other leading scientific thinkers and future employers.

The girls, from a United Nations Relief and Works Agency school in Aska Refugee Camp in Nablus, made history by winning a top spot at an international science fair in Silicon Valley for a revolutionary walking cane for the blind, which they demonstrated today for the secretary general.

“This is a story about brain power not fire power. You are not only helping the blind, but helping the world to see,” Mr. Ban told the girls during their meeting at UN Headquarters. “I am very impressed by your brilliant idea. This is the truth that I repeat every day. By empowering women, we can achieve anything in the world,” the Secretary-General added.

Unlike other electronic canes that send an infrared signal forward, the girls’ invention has a “seeing” sensor below that beeps when the surface changes, such as near stairs, holes or water, up to 30 inches away. The girls designed the cane with $200 in materials.

“How does it make sound?” Mr. Ban asked while trying out the walking stick – a three-foot hollow piece of wood with a comfortable handle, covered with reflective orange strips, and wired inside with a sensor.

Mr. Ban brought the cane near the door – it beeped. He then ran the bottom of the cane against his board room table. At the edge, the cane beeped indicating there was no ground below it.

The girls came up with the idea after watching their relatives struggle on the changing terrain in the refugee camp. It was then perfected with input from organizations that work with visually impaired people, and from the girls’ science and technology teacher, Jamilah Khaled.

The girls’ invention was selected as one of three finalists from among 56 projects at the Palestine Science and Technology Exhibition to participate at the Intel ISEF.

“These students show the enormous potential of Palestinian girls and boys. UNRWA in its education programs want to bring this out. It makes me wonder what we could achieve if our education system were not in the midst of a cash crisis,” said Margot Ellis, UNRWA deputy commissioner-general.

The girls returned to the West Bank Tuesday, each with a $250 prize, and they plan to “have a big party,” eat Palestinian food, see their parents and sleep, following a whirlwind nine-day visit to the United States, that included seeing the Statue of Liberty and Times Square in New York.

“We are so grateful to everyone for helping us,” student Aseel Alshaar said.

Moments later, the international science award winners were back to being regular teenagers, taking photos of themselves with the artwork on exhibit at the UN Headquarters and talking about shopping.

As of now, there are no plans to mass produce the walking stick, but the girls would like to see that happen and to continue their science education. Aseel Alshaar plans to be a genetic engineer; Noor Alarada, a cancer researcher and Aseel Abu Aleil a professor of medicine.

~ UNRWA press release


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Nablus girls get ‘Special Award’ at world’s top science competition

(Jerusalem, 15 May 2010) – Three girls from the UNRWA School at Aska Camp in Nablus have made history by becoming the first Palestinians to win an award at the world’s premier youth science competition.  Aseel Abu Aleil,  Aseel Alshaar and Noor Alarada were competing with 1,500 finalists from around the world. They picked up a “special award in applied electronics” at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose, California.

The 14-year-olds received  the prize for inventing an electronic “sensor cane” for the visually impaired, which for the first time sends an infrared signal downwards as well as forwards. Praising the originality of the invention, Mark Uslan, a Director at the American Federation of the Blind said “Although various types of “laser canes” have existed since the early 1970s, the girls’ design resolves a fundamental flaw in previous models by detecting holes in the ground”.

“The girls are part of the UNRWA’s school system which is educating 500,000 children throughout the Middle East.  Unfortunately, severe financial constraints threaten the continued provision of quality education to young Palestine refugees like these girls from Nablus”, UNRWA’s Deputy Commissioner General, Margot Ellis said “These students show the enormous potential of Palestinian girls and boys. UNRWA in its education programmes wants to bring this out. I pay tribute to them and their teachers. It makes me wonder what we could achieve if our education system were not in the midst of a cash crisis”.

UNRWA Spokesperson, Chris Gunness explained, “UNRWA’s science education costs 25 million dollars a year and with a 90 million dollar deficit across the Agency our funds will run out in a matter of months. In Gaza, we have had to turn thousands of children away from our schools this year.”

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