Mighty Girls shined at this year's premiere science and engineering competition for middle school students!
When the winners were announced at this year's Broadcom MASTERS Competition, America's premiere science and engineering competition for middle school students, the stage looked a little different than previous years — for the first time ever, all of the top prize winners were girls! 14-year-old Alaina Gassler won the top award, the $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize, while 14-year-olds Rachel Bergey, Sidor Clare, Alexis MacAvoy, and Lauren Ejiaga each took home $10,000 prizes. "With so many challenges in our world, Alaina and her fellow Broadcom MASTERS finalists make me optimistic," says Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of the Society for Science & the Public, which runs the competition, and Publisher of Science News. "I am proud to lead an organization that is inspiring so many young people, especially girls, to continue to innovate."
The Broadcom MASTERS — which stands for Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars — was founded in 2011 and aims to encourage middle school students to see how their personal passions can lead to career pathways in STEM. The competition is open to students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades; science fairs affiliated with the Society for Science & the Public nominate the top 10% of their participants, who then apply for the chance to join the national competition. This year, there was a pool of 2,348 applicants; 30 finalists were chosen, including 18 girls and 12 boys — the first time the finalists have been majority female as well.
In this blog post, we introduce you to these clever and creative Mighty Girls and their incredible projects. Their initiatives include reducing the size of blind spots in cars, creating new methods for protecting trees from an invasive insect species, studying how to build bricks on Mars, inventing a water filter that can remove heavy metals, and researching how increased ultraviolet light from ozone depletion affects plant growth. Their innovation and curiosity is sure to inspire science-loving kids everywhere!
To encourage your Mighty Girl to see herself as a scientist, just like these competition winners, check out our blog post Ignite Her Curiosity: The Best Books to Inspire Science-Loving Mighty Girls.
Meet The Winners of the 2019 Broadcom MASTERS
Alaina Gassler: Making Vehicles Safer By Removing Blind Spots
Alaina Gassler's mother hates driving their Jeep Grand Cherokee: the large A-pillar design around the windshield, which provides protection in a rollover crash, also impedes her view with blind spots. The problem piqued the curiosity of the 14-year-old from West Grove, Pennsylvania: "I started to think about how blind spots are a huge problem in all cars," she says. Alaina knew that her solution had to be inexpensive, easily accessible, and work in different lighting conditions. She created a mount for a webcam that could be installed on the passenger side A-pillar, and 3D printed a part that allowed a projector to display the image at close range inside the car. Her invention won the $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize, but she's not done yet: she's already got plans to create a new prototype with an LCD screen, which is easier to see in bright light. "There's so many car accidents and injuries and deaths that could have been prevented," she says. "Since we can't take [the pillar] out of cars, I decided to get rid of it without getting rid of it."
Rachel Bergey: Trapping Invasive Insects to Protect Trees and Agriculture
In Rachel Bergey's home in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, spotted lanternflies are a huge problem: "thousands of them have invaded my family’s maple trees," she says. The invasive species, which is originally from Asia, damages trees and threatens over $18 billion worth of agricultural crops in Pennsylvania alone. One trap currently in use is sticky tape, but tape needs frequent replacement, doesn't always catch the spotted lanternflies, and it can hurt helpful insects and even birds. As an alternative, Rachel came up with a trap made of a tinfoil dome with a tunnel that leads to insect netting: once the spotted lanternflies are inside, they can't get out. When she tested it, "the tinfoil and netting trap... caught 103 percent more spotted lanternflies and 94 percent less other insects" than tape. Rachel won the $10,000 Lemelson Award for an invention that shows a promising solution to a real-world problem with her trap. She tells other young scientists to remember that most of science is hard work: "You don't have to be super smart to be a scientist," she says. "You just have to be observant... Hard work pays off."
Sidor Clare: Making Bricks on Mars
Like many kids today, Sidor Clare is imagining a future Mars mission but one of her questions was how to build structures when the astronauts arrived. "Astronauts need sturdy building materials," the Sandy, Utah native points out, "and it takes 9 months and a ton of money to ship materials to Mars." She and her partner Kassie Holt decided to find a binding agent that would allow people to make bricks with regolith, Martian soil. The girls used Mars Global Simulant MGS-1, a soil mix that imitates the chemical and mechanical properties of regolith, and tried different binders, including polyester resin, polystyrene, and recycled high density polyethylene, or HDPE. The resin brick was the strongest — so strong that they had to use construction equipment to test it: "Our Mars resin brick can withstand more pressure than concrete." Sidor won the $10,000 Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation, which recognizes a young inventor with vision and promise. "A lot of people want to go to Mars," she says, "and I wanted to help further that exploration."
Lauren Ejiaga: Studying The Effects of Ozone Depletion
"I was always fascinated by nature," Lauren Ejiaga says, so when she learned about how the thinning of the ozone layer let more ultraviolet rays through the atmosphere, she wondered how that change was affecting plant growth. The aspiring doctor from New Orleans, Louisiana decided to analyze the effects of increased UV radiation on plants, particularly UVB rays. She grew pansies in hollow growing cases that she built from plastic pipes and connectors. Each case had a filter that filtered UVA ray, UVB rays, or neither. She found that plants that got UVA radiation only lost 14% of their chlorophyll, the pigment that allows plants to photosynthesize, compared to her control group, while plants that got UVB radiation only lost 61% of their chlorophyll. "[Ozone depletion] affects us in more ways than what we know," she concludes. Lauren won the $10,000 STEM Talent Award, sponsored by DoD STEM, which celebrates leadership and technical ability in STEM. She hopes to show other students that you can do science with minimal resources. "[You] don't really need a bunch of fancy gadgets or whatever to prove that something's happening," she says. "They can do it in their home, their backyard. If they want to do a topic, they can go for it."
Alexis MacAvoy: Designing Low-Cost, Eco-Friendly Water Filters
Alexis MacAvoy's home in Hillsborough, California is near San Francisco Bay, where efforts to clean up heavy metals in the water have cost millions of dollars — a cost that could have been avoided if people had filtered their wastewater. But even today, she says, "80% of the industrial wastewater isn't filtered whatsoever." Activated carbon filters can effectively remove these heavy metals, and Alexis wondered if it was possible to make these filters using biowaste like coconut shells or sawdust. After testing several materials, she created filters using sawdust and walnut shells, ground to a specific mesh size and treated with sodium bicarbonate and fluoride; these filters absorbed up to 30 times more copper than a commercial filter! Alexis won the $10,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Advancement for her work to make it easier to keep our water clean. She hopes her win will raise public awareness of the multiple benefits of water filtration: "preserving ecosystems so that no further damage is conducted can actually benefit our health as well."
Children's Books Celebrating Science-Loving Mighty Girls
Mary spends so much time tinkering in her lab that she doesn't have any friends... so when she's feeling lonely one day, she invents the Sheepinator! Mary's new pet sheep — and her amazing invention — catch her classmates' eyes, and she decides to maintain these new connections by bringing all the other kids sheep, too. But when her plan goes a bit sideways, her newfound friends are ready and willing to help! Author Sue Fleiss' clever reimagining of the classic poem combine beautifully with Petros Bouloubasis' wacky illustrations to create an appealing combination of science and friendship.
Creatures all over the forest are getting sick, and Charlotte the bunny scientist is determined to figure out why! The stumped doctors and scientists are dismissive of her efforts, but she holds firm to her beloved grandfather's assertion that she will "make a real difference in the world." After some patient interviews and a few samples from the outhouse, Charlotte realizes that all the sick animals have been munching on carrots contaminated by 'Funky Forest Fungi.' A quick clinical trial later, and Charlotte has saved the tummies of all her friends! This delightful sequel to Charlotte the Scientist Is Squished celebrates the ability of determined girls to change the world.
Any scientist can tell you that, for every experiment that works, there are an awful lot of missed steps! This hilarious book actually teaches the scientific method — complete with hypotheses, experimental methods, and conclusions — as the book's irrepressible narrator decides to explore questions like "Can a kid make it through the winter eating only snow and ketchup?" and "Can a washing machine wash dishes?" Fortunately, while these particular experiments may not turn out well, this eager young scientist knows it's only a matter of time until she gets one just right.
All anyone can talk about is Velma's amazing older sisters... which means that nobody notices Velma at all. That is, until her first grade class takes a field trip to the butterfly conservatory, someplace her sisters have never been. Velma is thrilled and quickly studies up on everything she can learn about butterflies — and when a monarch takes a liking to Velma, she'll never be forgotten again. More importantly, though, Velma has discovered a new identity and a new passion: she loves science! This charming and funny story is perfect as a read-aloud.
Young Ada is full of boundless curiosity, so when her house fills with a toe-curling smell, she's determined to track down the cause. Not afraid of failure, she embarks on a fact-finding mission and conducts scientific experiments, all in the name of discovery. But, this time, her experiments lead to even more stink and get her into trouble! Fortunately, Ada and her supportive family realize that it's always worth asking "why", even if only leads to more questions. This title by the author of Rosie Revere, Engineer reinforces the importance of perseverance captured in that book, as well as celebrating a love of science and a burning desire to learn. Fans of this title can also check out Ada Twist's Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists.
Zoey has made an amazing discovery: magical animals show up in her backyard when they need help — so it's up to her to help them feel better! This time, it's a sick baby dragon she names Marshmallow. With her beloved cat Sassafras, Zoey will use the scientific method to learn enough about her patient to treat him, including testing if Marshmallow is warm or cold blooded; herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore; and much more. This first book in the whimsical illustrated early reader chapter book series is a fun blend of fantasy and real-world science. Fans of this book can follow Zoey's further adventures in the rest of the Zoey and Sassafras series.
Third grade scientist and inventor extraordinaire Ada Lace is trying to solve the mystery of a missing dog! Ada thinks her homemade gadgets and her knack for scientific thinking will allow her to crack the case, while her neighbor Nina has has her own theory about the missing dog (involving alien abduction, of all things.) As Ada and Nina get closer to the solution, though, they'll also discover that opposites can make for the best of friends. This new series from Emily Calandrelli, host of Xploration Outer Space and MIT graduate, provides a scientifically-minded detective series that young readers will love. For more of Ada's adventures, visit our Ada Lace Collection.
Imagine a world where Lady Ada Byron (who created the first computer algorithm) and Mary Shelley (the author of Frankenstein) met as girls — and decided to turn their combined brainpower to solving mysteries! That's the premise behind this unique new series in which the pair form The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency. In order to find the missing heirloom — and prove the false confession wrong — they'll have to use science, math, and creative analytical thinking to unveil the true culprit. Ada and Mary's adventures continue in the rest of The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series.