Hannah Herbst wants to bring renewable energy to the developing world.
The 15-year-old from Boca Raton, Florida, won this year’s Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for designing a probe to generate power and fresh water for developing countries by harvesting it from ocean currents.
She was awarded $US25,000 and the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist” at a competition at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Herbst told Business Insider she was inspired by her 9-year-old pen pal in Ethiopia who has limited access to electricity. “I cant even imagine a day without electricity,” said Herbst.
How the device works
Herbst’s energy probe is made of recycled materials and costs just $US12.
It consists of a 3D-printed propeller, connected by a pulley inside a plastic PVC pipe to a hydroelectric generator, which converts the mechanical movement of ocean currents to usable electricity. She tested her device in the Boca Raton Intracoastal Waterway, where the current coming in from the Altantic Ocean produces a large amount of untapped energy.
Using her device, she was able to power a set of LED lights.
She calculated that if her design were scaled up, she could generate enough electricity to charge three car batteries at once in less than an hour. That’s enough energy to power saltwater desalinization pumps to provide a source of fresh water for developing countries. It could also power blood centrifuges for medical use, or coastal beacons for ship navigation.
Herbst was one of nine finalists.
Over the past three months, each of them was paired with a 3M scientist as part of a summer mentoring program to take their inventions from design to prototype.
Herbst worked with 3M corporate scientist Jeffrey Emslander, whose research has helped the company reduce its emissions and produce its products using less energy. Here they are accepting the award:
The competition’s second place prize went to Raghav Ganesh, an eighth grader from San Jose, California, for an invention that monitors physiological and environmental factors that can trigger meltdowns in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Third place went to Amulya Garimella, a seventh grader from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who created a system that monitors EEG brainwaves and alerts the user when he or she is distracted.
Iris Gupta, a seventh grader from North Potomac, Maryland, won fourth place for her project to stop allergies at their source by inhalation or injection of nanoparticles that block particles that trigger allergies.
As for Herbst, she plans to donate some of her winnings to her Ethiopian pen pal, and a new building at her school. The rest will go into her college fund, she said.
She also plans to keep working with her 3M mentor to improve her ocean energy device, and eventually deploy it in developing countries.
You can also check out a video featuring Herbst and the other finalists:
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