Learn more about our judging panel from all over the world.
Mariette DiChristina has been chief judge since the Google Science Fair started in 2011. She is Executive Vice President of Editorial & Publishing for Nature Research Group’s Magazines division, supervising the award-winning global teams of the journal Nature’s magazine, Nature Research’s Partnership & Custom Media and Scientific American, for which she also serves as editor in chief, appointed 2009. She was honored as a “Corporate Visionary” in Folio’s 2014 Top Women in Digital Media. In 2011, she became a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She serves on the Climate Communications Initiative advisory committee for the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine and is on the board of the nonprofit Science Counts. She is past president of the National Association of Science Writers as well as of Science Writers in New York, and was an adjunct professor and Visiting Scholar for New York University’s graduate Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program.
Vinton G. Cerf, VP & Chief Internet Evangelist, Google
Vinton G. Cerf is vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google. He contributes to global policy development and continued spread of the Internet. Widely known as one of the "Fathers of the Internet," Cerf is the co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet. He has served in executive positions at MCI, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and on the faculty of Stanford University.
Vint Cerf served as chairman of the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) from 2000-2007 and has been a Visiting Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 1998. Cerf served as founding president of the Internet Society (ISOC) from 1992-1995. Cerf is a Foreign Member of the British Royal Society and Swedish Academy of Engineering, and Fellow of IEEE, ACM, and American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the International Engineering Consortium, the Computer History Museum, the British Computer Society, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, the Worshipful Company of Stationers and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He has served as President of the Association for Computing Machinery, chairman of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) and completed a term as Chairman of the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology for the US National Institute of Standards and Technology. President Obama appointed him to the National Science Board in 2012.
Cerf is a recipient of numerous awards and commendations in connection with his work on the Internet, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, US National Medal of Technology, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, the Prince of Asturias Award, the Tunisian National Medal of Science, the Japan Prize, the Charles Stark Draper award, the ACM Turing Award, the Franklin Medal, Officer of the Legion d’Honneur and 29 honorary degrees. In December 1994, People magazine identified Cerf as one of that year's "25 Most Intriguing People."
His personal interests include fine wine, gourmet cooking and science fiction. Cerf and his wife, Sigrid, were married in 1966 and have two sons, David and Bennett.
28 June 2018
Kiara Nirghin, Google Science Fair Grand Prize Winner 2016
When Kiara and her family were driving to the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, she was shocked to pass empty reservoirs that had previously always been full of water. This was the first of many times she witnessed the impact of drought on her community, and after further research, she learned about the devastating effects drought had on food and water security. Kiara has developed a unique superabsorbent polymer that holds hundreds of times its weight in water when stored in soil. It is biodegradable, inexpensive and free of harmful chemicals, unlike the manmade materials currently used. The polymer, made entirely from waste products, improves the environment, increases the chance for plants to sustain growth by 84% during a drought and can increase food security by 73% in disaster-struck areas.
Last year, Kiara was awarded the Grand Prize at the Google Science Fair, featured by both The Times and the Guardian on their top 30 most influential teens lists, and invited by Forbes and TED to speak about her work. Using these platforms, Kiara actively promotes the importance of protecting our environment through innovation. Kiara plans to successfully implement the polymer in her community and explore other solutions for agriculture worldwide. She also hopes to use her international platform to encourage other the youth, especially young girls, to pursue innovative solutions to the challenges that their own communities face.
Kiara will be a student at Stanford University where she hopes to pursue her studies in Biomedical engineering and Computer Science.
Pelle Normann Brix, Senior Model Design Manager, LEGO® Education
Pelle Brix is a designer for LEGO® Education based in Billund, Denmark. Pelle is responsible for the design and concept development of LEGO® sets used in classrooms all over the world, such as LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3 and WeDo 2.0. Previously, Pelle served as a designer for LEGO® Technic within The LEGO® Group, where he was responsible for designing LEGO® Technic product lines, from initial ideas to launch, which resulted in new product lines including Bionicle, LEGO® MINDSTORMS NXT and the LEGO® Technic Starter Kit to name a few. Pelle uses untraditional thinking when facing a challenge and aims to make the impossible possible. LEGO®, play and learning are the three things he loves and is passionate about spreading into the world. In his spare time, Pelle, spends time with his family and likes to renovate houses.
Magdalena Skipper, Editor in Chief at Nature Magazine
Magdalena Skipper is the Editor-in-Chief of Nature. She is the first life scientist and the first woman to hold the position, and only the eight overall in Nature’s 149-year history.
Dr Skipper first joined Nature Publishing Group (Nature Research’s precursor) in 2001 and has held a range of roles including: Chief Editor of Nature Reviews Genetics; Senior Editor and Team Leader, Nature; Executive Editor of the Nature Partner Journals; and Editor-in-Chief of Nature Communications.
Dr Skipper received a PhD in genetics from the University of Cambridge and conducted research at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, after which she was a post-doctoral fellow at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) in London.
At Nature, she was the genetics and genomics editor and was instrumental in the developing the innovative ENCODE Explorer and Epigenome Roadmap projects, which pushed the boundaries of science publishing beyond the conventional research paper. At Nature Communications, she has been a strong champion of open research and transparency.
Enrico Palermo, President, The Spaceship Company
Enrico leads TSC’s spaceship design, manufacturing and testing operations at Mojave Air and Space Port, California. Enrico joined the Virgin Galactic startup team in 2006 in London. As TSC’s first employee in 2008 in Mojave, Enrico led TSC’s founding from a business plan concept to a thriving spaceship manufacturing and flight test operation with over 500 employees. TSC was the first dedicated engineering, manufacturing and flight test enterprise in Richard Branson’s global Virgin Group.
Enrico is incredibly proud of building the team and all aspects of a company that has now delivered its first spaceship, VSS Unity, to manned, powered flight test (pictured). Enrico has a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Applied Mathematics from the University of Western Australia. Upon receipt of a scholarship from the European Space Agency, Enrico studied at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France. Enrico brings a wealth of operations leadership, engineering, technology transfer, intellectual property, financial analysis and business planning experience from a variety of industries internationally. Enrico’s career started in the energy sector, as a mechanical engineer supporting offshore oil and gas platforms for Australia’s largest resource development where he gained invaluable project management and risk management experience working on complex integrated systems. A very motivated individual, Enrico moved his family from Perth, Australia to London, England, and then to Mojave, California in pursuit of leading organizations that are innovating forward-looking technologies in space that will benefit many and enable a positive future for our planet.
Dr Tarah L. Castleberry, DO, MPH – Flight Surgeon, Virgin Galactic
Tarah L. Castleberry, DO, MPH – Born in Vernon, Texas, and earned a B.S. in Biology from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, and a D.O. degree from Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, Missouri. She completed Aerospace Medicine residency training in the U.S. Navy, which included receiving a Master of Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and then served as a Naval Flight Surgeon for 5 years before completing Family Medicine residency at Mayo Clinic Arizona. She is board certified in Family Medicine, Aerospace Medicine, and General Preventive Medicine. Tarah was hired by the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in 2009, and served as a Wyle contracted Flight Surgeon for NASA for 3 years, supporting astronaut training in Star City, Russia, and serving as Deputy Crew Surgeon for the Expedition 30/31 crew. She is then served as Program Director for the UTMB Aerospace Medicine and General Preventive Medicine residencies for 4 years before becoming the Flight Surgeon for Virgin Galactic in August 2015. She enjoys running, cooking, reading, gardening, and any outdoor activities.
Dr Yvonne Cagle, Astronaut and Physician
Dr. Yvonne Cagle is a NASA Astronaut and Family Physician. In 2008 , Dr. Cagle retired as a Colonel in the USAF where she served as a Senior Flight Surgeon prior to her selection to the NASA Astronaut Corp in 1996. In 2005, Dr. Cagle was assigned to the NASA/ARC as the lead ARC Astronaut Science Liaison and Strategic Relationships Manager for Google and other Silicon Valley Programmatic Partnerships. Dr. Cagle’s groundbreaking work is preserving historic NASA space legacy data while, simultaneously, galvanizing NASA’s initiatives in global mapping, sustainable energies, green initiatives, and disaster preparedness. Dr. Cagle was the advisor for the Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research Program (CRuSR). Previously, Dr. Cagle served on faculty as the NASA liaison and VP for space exploration technologies with Singularity University based in Silicon Valley California.
Dr. Cagle was a Brussels TEDx Speaker for 2012. Dr. Cagle earned a PhD for her accumulative work in Health and Human Science. Historically holding adjunct professorships with Stanford University, UC Davis, and UTMB, Galveston, Dr. Cagle currently, in collaboration with NASA, was a Visiting Professor at Fordham University investigating mitigating neurocognitive countermeasures to optimize long duration space crew behavioral health and performance. Currently, Dr. Cagle is advising on deep space neurobehavioral research and polar analog simulations for NASA’s exploration missions.
Margaret (Peg) Keiner, Grosvenor Teacher Fellow
Peg Keiner is the Director of Innovation at GEMS World Academy Chicago, Global Goal Ambassador for the United Nations Association Chicago Chapter, Google Earth Education Expert, and 2017 National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. Keiner focuses on creating environments for people to use technology to investigate problems, design solutions, and take action.
She collaborates with teachers to integrate technology as a tool for student inquiry within the Pre-K–8 International Baccalaureate programs and manages local and global innovation partnerships. She is the curriculum writer for a global service learning program called Project Empathy and is a Global Goal Ambassador for the United Nations Association Chapter of Chicago. Keiner believes students can be empathetic stewards of our landscape and works to empower them with tools to investigate their environment and advocate for change.
TH Culhane, National Geographic Explorer
Dr. T.H. Culhane is a professor of Environmental Sustainability and Justice at the Patel College for Global Solutions at University of South Florida, Tampa. A National Geographic Explorer since 2009, Culhane is co-founder and president of Solar CITIES Inc., a not-for-profit environmental technology training organization that teaches members of impoverished urban and rural communities how to build their own home- and community-scale biodigesters and vertical aeroponics food production systems with the goal of eliminating waste. Through National Geographic/Cengage Learning, he also conducts hands-on workshops with STEM teachers and students around the world.
Culhane lives with and uses these sustainable technologies in his daily life at the Rosebud Continuum Education Center in Land O' Lakes, Florida where he resides.
Maggie Johnson is Vice President of Education and University Relations for Google. She manages all technical training, content development, and information management programs for Google engineers and operations staff, as well as Google’s K12 educational programs in STEM and computer science. She also manages the University Relations area, building research partnerships with faculty and labs globally; and Google’s strategic initiatives in online teaching and learning. Prior to Google, Maggie was teaching faculty and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University.
Ayanna Howard, Ph.D. is Professor and Chair of the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is also the Chief Technology Officer of Zyrobotics. Dr. Howard’s career focus is on intelligent technologies that must adapt to and function within a human-centered world. Her work, which encompasses advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), assistive technologies, and robotics, has resulted in over 250 peer-reviewed publications. To date, her unique accomplishments have been highlighted through a number of awards and articles, including highlights in USA Today, Upscale, and TIME Magazine, as well as being recognized as one of the 23 most powerful women engineers in the world by Business Insider and one of the Top 50 U.S. Women in Tech by Forbes. Prior to Georgia Tech, Dr. Howard was a senior robotics researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.