Lillian Kay Petersen of Los Alamos, New Mexico developed a tool to help aid organizations better plan for food shortages by using satellite data to predict crop harvests early in the growing season.
For 17-year-old Lillian Kay Petersen, the impact of hunger on children has a personal face: "Nine years ago, my family adopted my three younger siblings, all of whom faced food insecurity in their childhoods," she explains. "I have watched my younger siblings struggle with the lifelong effects of malnutrition." Inspired by her siblings' experience, Lillian developed a tool to help aid organizations better plan for food shortages by using satellite data to predict crop harvests early in the growing season. Her tool yielded such impressive results that she was awarded the $250,000 top prize in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the United States' oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. The Mighty Girl from Los Alamos, New Mexico is thrilled by the honor and the potential of her research to help children facing food insecurity around the world so "they don't face malnutrition and lifelong consequences."
One of the biggest challenges facing aid organizations is knowing where the food supplies will be needed in any given year, which depends on the success or failure of each season's harvest. After reading about the devastating 2015 drought in Ethiopia, Lillian wondered if computer modeling could help predict crop yields as conditions changed. "18 million people were at risk of starvation [during the Ethiopian crisis]," she recalls. "I became motivated to help aid organizations respond to droughts in real time." Lillian, who had started learning programming in the fifth grade, theorized that computer modeling using satellite imaging and weather data could be used to make predictions about where crops would thrive and where they would fail.
Since she knew she wanted to work with real-time data, Lillian says that she "specifically started working with satellite imagery in the summer after my sophomore year." Figuring out how to apply her model to food-insecure areas was very challenging, however; "it took me a really long time to figure out what worked and what could predict crop yields in Africa," she observes. To develop her tool, she started by using daily satellite data for known crop growth in the United States to validate her scientific model. Lillian then created a model to predict crop yield in every country in Africa three to four months before the harvest using satellite imagery. She later confirmed that her predictions had a high level of accuracy against reported yields.
In a scientific paper entitled "A Novel Computational Tool to Inform Cost-Effective Nutrition Interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa" that she published in a peer-reviewed journal, Lillian observed that her model could be used to optimize a "recipe" of low-cost, nutritionally balanced foods that could be quickly and easily transported to places where people would need supplemental food. She concluded that "used in conjunction, these tools could better inform policymakers on recipes and supply chains that reach more children with life-saving treatment... while supporting sustainable development and future food security in developing countries."
Lillian submitted her project to the Regeneron Science Talent Search, which is run by the Society for Science and the Public, and showed that "optimized recipes could reduce total procurement costs by 25% while improving environmental sustainability through local production and optimized supply logistics." When she was selected as a finalist, she was excited that she would have the opportunity to meet her fellow young scientists during a planned week of events, but the situation changed when the coronavirus pandemic required the competition to hold a virtual award ceremony for the first time in its 78-year history. "I was obviously very disappointed that I was not going to be able to go to D.C.," Lillian says, but adds that she was excited be able to connect with her fellow finalists virtually including with virtual escape rooms and dance parties.
In terms of next steps, Lillian plans on continuing her research and recently met with the International Food Policy Research Institute to discuss how the pandemic will affect crop production in Africa. She'll also be continuing her studies at Harvard this fall, where she plans on majoring in Applied Math and Molecular Biology, with a minor in Computer Science. And for kids interested in making a difference on real-world problems, Lillian shares these wise words of advice: "I would advise any young student in science to learn computer programming. It opens the doors to anyone, so that they can participate in real science at a young age."
Books And Coding Kits to Encourage Young Programmers
Baby's train isn't working — so she'll have to think like a coder to work out the bugs! Baby Loves Coding presents the concepts of sequencing, problem solving, cause and effect, and thinking step-by-step in a way that's simple enough for little kids to understand, but accurate enough to satisfy an expert! It even introduces concepts like algorithms and programming languages. Kids will love the bright illustrations and curiosity-inspiring language in this book from the Baby Loves Science series.
Best friends Sofia and Maddi live in the same neighborhood and attend the same school, but when Sofia looks for a snack in Maddi's fridge one day, she is shocked to discover that her friend Maddi spends many of her days hungry. Maddi makes Sofia promise not to tell, but it's hard for Sofia to enjoy all the good food on her own family's table when she knows Maddi's family has none. It turns out, sometimes the kindest thing to do is to break a promise. This book about food insecurity provides a model for empathetic and compassionate friendship with a person in need.
11-year-old Maria Luz is worried: her family lives on a small farm, and this year's crop is so poor that they may not have enough to eat. When her father has to leave to find work, Maria is put in charge of the garden, and a new teacher shows her sustainable farming practices like terracing and using compost. And once she shares the information with her neighbors, her community is transformed! Realistic portrayals of the obstacles facing subsistence farmers — including predatory middlemen who take advantage of desperation to claim most of the profit — make this a revelatory book for young readers.
In our computer age, it's astonishing the things you can do with programming! In this book from the Gutsy Girls Go For Science series, you'll meet female programmers Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, the ENIAC women, Dorothy Vaughan, and Margaret Hamilton. Then, through hands-on projects like learning about variables and designing a web page, you'll learn more about how the programmers of today are helping automate, connect, and enhance our world! It's sure to leave her eager to sit down at the keyboard and really get to know the ins and outs of how her computer works.
When you don't know how coding work, it seems like magic — but when you learn how to use it, you'll discover that you can use coding skills to make your vision come to life! In this inspiring book, girls will learn how programming can be used in creative, expressive ways, and explore a variety of different projects, from making a digital fortune-teller with the Python programming language, to creating light-up bracelets, and even building your own computer! With an encouraging tone and an empowering message, this book will help her see herself as a coder — and put code to work to change the world. For another coding guide for girls, check out Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World for ages 9 and up.
When Andrea “Andy” Gonzales and Sophie Houser met at Girls Who Code summer camp, their idea — a video game tackling menstrual taboos called Tampon Run — turned into a viral sensation. Andy and Sophie were covered by CNN, Buzzfeed, Teen Vogue, and many more, and they also got an inside peek at big start-ups and tech companies. In this unique book, Andy and Sophie, now college students, talk about what they've learned about the tech industry and how coding can open incredible new doors for everyone — as well as about the power of finding your voice. Including a selection of real-life tech projects girls can try, this book is perfect for budding coders!
With the Code 'n Learn Kinderbot from Fisher-Price, kids use simple coding to control their robot friend! This interactive robot teaches kids early math concepts, colors, shapes, and more, all while kids explore the secret code book and four machine accessories. As they follow the coding challenges and explore the secret code book, they'll develop their undersatnding of cause and effect, logic, and more. It's a fun way for kids to try out experiments and learn the basics of engineering and robotics.
This clever little robot can help kids as young as five learn the basics of coding — and its advanced features allow Botley to grow along with them! Botley is ready to go right out of the box and can be coded for up to 150 steps. Using smart logic, Botley can detect and avoid objects in its path, while following looping commands or tackling obstacle courses. It also has 16 fun interactions that let kids transform Botley into a train, police car, ghost, and more! A Toy of the Year Finalist, Botley comes with a 78-piece activity set and is 100% screen-free with no phone or tablet required so it's perfect for fostering kids' natural curiosity, creativity and problem solving skills.
Conjure your own ice magic with this Kano coding set inspired by Frozen! With this kit, kids will build their own Frozen-themed "ice" sensor, which they can use to control challenges and activities in the app. Make fractals, throw snowballs, conjure your own Ice Palace, and more! As kids play, they'll also learn the basics of programming, first with code blocks, and then with more complicated techniques like loops and variables. It's a fun and tactile way to get kids discovering the powers of coding. And for Star Wars fan, Kano also makes a Star Wars: The Force Coding Kit.
Raspberry Pi is a clever kit that allows you to build your own computer! Assemble a credit-card sized computer, then use the included 64 GB MicroSD card loaded with the New Out Of Box Software (NOOBS) to get it running right away. Connect to a monitor and an input device and get experimenting with programming! A vibrant online community will give you lots of ideas of what you can do with your very own Raspberry Pi. This kit includes the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B processor with your choice of 4GB or 8GB of RAM, a premium high-lgoss white case with integrated fan mount, and much more.