Chances are good that you know someone who is allergic to some type of food -- maybe peanuts, milk or eggs. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention think that one kid in every 20 has a food allergy.
Two Vienna, Va., middle-schoolers came up with an idea that may help them. It's called the Food Allergen Detector, or FAD.
"Since so many people have allergies, we thought that this would be a good idea," said Pallavi Bhave, 14.
Pallavi and classmate Joyce Tian, 13, won a national science competition last spring for coming up with the concept for FAD. The two girls, who graduated from Kilmer Middle School in Vienna, beat 675 teams of seventh-to-ninth-graders in their region, which was made up of six states and Washington, D.C.
While the girls didn't make the FAD -- the technology doesn't exist yet -- they came up with the information that could lead to its invention. They wrote an 11-page paper, working after school and on weekends for about three weeks. Their goal was to make the FAD convenient, easy to use and inexpensive.
Let's say you're allergic to peanuts and you go out to dinner. You order chocolate cake for dessert, but you're worried that it might contain peanuts. Take out your FAD, which would be about the size of a cell phone, and point it at the cake. The FAD would shoot two laser beams, one green and one invisible, at the cake. A list of 50 allergens would appear on the FAD screen with the word "yes" or "no" beside them.
Each of the 50 food items would have a unique "fingerprint," the girls said. The FAD would use a technology called Raman spectroscopy to identify the allergens in your chocolate cake.
If "no" appears beside the word "peanut," you're safe to eat the cake.
Joyce and Pallavi plan on being scientists when they grow up. Pallavi wants to be a genetic engineer, someone who works with DNA. Joyce, whose dad is a chemist, has been studying the periodic table since she was a toddler.
The girls intend to keep working on the FAD in ninth grade at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Va., this fall.