Alaina Gassler is a freshman student at Avon Grove Charter School in Pennsylvania was recently announced as the winner of the 9th annual Broadcom MASTERS®, the nation’s premier Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) middle school competition.
Placing first of thirty competing middle-school students, across 13 states, and representing a total of 28 schools, this competition leverages project-based learning to test and demonstrate mastery of 21st Century skills, including critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration in each of the STEM areas .
Finalists were selected by a panel of distinguished scientists and engineers from among the Top 300 MASTERS, over 2,300 applicants, in 47 states. These 30 finalists traveled to Washington, DC from October 25th to 30th 2019, and were set to meet government officials and additionally showcase their project to the public during an event at the University of the District of Columbia on October 26th.
These finalists all had independent research projects which covered a broad range of topics, however, most of these 2019 projects focused on environmental issues. Project topics include :
- Examining the impact of automotive exhaust on bacteria
- Improving automobile safety
- Deactivating opioids
- Using plants as coagulants to purify drinking water
- Developing a tool to screen for genetic mutations
- Monitoring water quality
On October 29th, Alaina was announced the winner during an awards ceremony at the Shakespeare Theatre Company.
Alaina found the inspiration for her award-winning project from her mother. Alaina’s family owns a Jeep Grand Cherokee, however, her mother is open about her anxieties with being the driver, as she worries about her lack of vision with the large A-pillar design. While this structure is essential to hold the windshield in place and provide protection in the case of an accident, this pillar placement does indeed create a dangerous blind-spot for drivers.
A blind spot is an area that a driver cannot see from their usual seated position at the wheel. A blind spot can be by direct obstruction of view in the case of the A-pillar design or can be created through the settings of rear-view or side mirrors.
Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that nearly 840,000 blind spot accidents occur each year in the United States resulting in 300 fatalities. This can partially be due to drivers not taking the time to properly adjust their mirrors, or physically moving to check their blind spot before changing lanes.
“There are so many car accidents and injuries and deaths that could’ve been prevented from a pillar not being there,” says Alaina in her Society for Science video. “And since we can’t take it off cars, I decided to get rid of it without getting rid of it.”
Using a webcam, projector, 3D printed adapter, and retroreflective fabric, Alaina made the car’s A-pillars invisible by projecting a live steam of the blind spot onto the interior pillar.
She did this by attaching a webcam onto the exterior A-pillar, and mounting a projector onto the roof inside. This projector used the interior A-pillar as a screen to display what was happening in that blind spot.
With the use of a 3D printer, Alaina was able to create a special piece that would allow the projector to focus at a close range. She used a retroreflective fabric to allow the light from the projector to only reflect back to the light source, as opposed to bouncing in different directions.
For this innovative project, Alaina was awarded the top Samueli Foundation Prize of $25,000, a gift of Susan and Henry Samueli, Co-Founder and Chairman of Broadcom Corporation. In this competition, Alaina demonstrated mastery of all STEM fields, and she exemplified how research, innovation, and teamwork come together to impact our everyday lives.
“I had confidence that I might win one of the STEM category prizes because I felt like I did well in the engineering category, but once they reached the announcement for the top prize, I was out of hope,” Alaina reported to CNN News.
“When my name was called, I started shaking so much because I was so excited.”
Alaina is now a high school freshman at Avon Grove Charter School. She submitted this project when she was in eighth grade. After winning this prize, she hopes to make her prototype more unique, patent the design, and even submit the idea to automotive companies like Tesla.
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