Hannah Herbst, an eighth grader in Boca Raton, Florida, just became America’s Top Young Scientist.
The 14-year-old designed and built a small turbine she calls BEACON, for Bringing Electricity Access to Countries Through Ocean Energy Collection.
“Shortly after school began,” Herbst wrote in a blog post for the contest, “I received a letter from my nine-year-old pen pal in Ethiopia, Africa. She wrote about how she has no access to lights, a steady flow of fresh water to drink, and other basic necessities. I recognised that her situation was not unique and believed that I could use the skills I acquired to take action in an attempt to mitigate the global energy crisis.”
So she got to work on her ocean energy probe. Herbst spent four months researching her idea, she wrote in another blog post, before she designed the turbine as a computer model, and then produced 3D-printed prototypes. Herbst even got approval from the city of Boca Raton to test her design in the intercoastal waterway.
There, she explains in her contest entry video, the ocean tidal energy drives the propeller at the bottom of the probe, which then powers the hydroelectric generator at the top of the probe via a pulley system inside, turning ocean tides into usable power.
Herbst’s calculations show that if she scaled up BEACON, it could charge three car batteries simultaneously in less than an hour. She suggests the turbine could be used in developing countries to renewably power pumps to desalinate water, run centrifuges that help test blood for diseases, and power electric buoys for maritime navigation.
Herbst became interested in science at an engineering camp during the summer before seventh grade. When she got there, she realised she was the only girl.
“I knew that I was the minority,” she wrote, “but after successfully programming and constructing robots that day, my love and passion for science and engineering was discovered.”
And she hopes other young scientists will find their passion, too. “If you’re reading this blog post and are in middle school, I hope that you will apply for the 2016 Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge,” Herbst wrote. “It is such an amazing opportunity to explore, innovate, and work with a scientist from 3M to develop your prototype. I hope to see YOU posting blogs next year!”
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