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US Girls Take Top Science Prizes

Broadcom MASTERS top winners (from left to right) Lauren Ejiaga, Sidor Clare, Alaina Gassler, Rachel Bergey and Alexis MacAvoy. (Photo Credit: Linda Doane/Society for Science & the Public)
Broadcom MASTERS top winners (from left to right) Lauren Ejiaga, Sidor Clare, Alaina Gassler, Rachel Bergey and Alexis MacAvoy. (Photo Credit: Linda Doane/Society for Science & the Public)
US Girls Take Top Science Prizes
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When it comes to U.S. middle school science and engineering, girls rule. Girls took the top five prizes at the 2019 Broadcom MASTERS, a competition for middle school students across the country.

The winners were announced last month.

In first place was 14 year old Alaina Gassler of West Grove, Pennsylvania. She designed a system to make driving safer by reducing blind spots — the areas that drivers cannot see outside their vehicle. Gassler developed the technology while in eighth grade.

"She, along with the entire Class of 2019, are already leaders in their fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM),” said Paula Golden, president of the Broadcom Foundation. “These young innovators give every one of us hope for the future."

The Broadcom MASTERS competition is a project of the Society for Science & the Public. The term MASTERS is short for Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars. The program was set up to motivate young people to attend college and pursue careers in STEM fields.

Many schools across the country have increased classes in STEM subjects. The Broadcom MASTERS was open to students in grades 6, 7 and 8 across the country. In the spring, around 80,000 students competed in about 300 science fairs sponsored by the Society. Only ten percent of those students then go on to compete at the finals in Washington, D.C.

Thirty finalists took home more than $100,000 in awards and prize money. The winners were honored for their STEM successes, as well as for demonstrating skills in critical thinking, communication, creativity and team-work.

This year, all the major awards in the competition went to girls.

The top prize winner, Aliana (Ah-lane-ah) Gassler, says she got the idea for her project after seeing her mother struggle with blind spots in her family’s car. Blind spots lead to many accidents — about 840,000 accidents a year nationwide.

Gassler’s system helps drivers see “through” the A-frame pillar — the part of the vehicle, in the front, that joins the top and front window. The A-frame pillar is important for safety, and cannot be removed. Gassler used a camera to help drivers look “through” the structure to see what is blocked. The camera sends video to a device that shows images on the other side of the pillar. The driver then can “see” what's in the blind spot.

Gassler said that when she heard her name called as the winner, “it was so unexpected.”

The young inventor won a $25,000 prize for her invention. She told Popular Mechanics she can make improvements on her device with that money. Gassler said she wants to improve the picture — making it easy to see in any weather, or time of day. She also told the magazine she hopes to sell her idea.

Here are the other top winners. The 14 year olds each received $10,000 for their projects.

Rachel Bergey, (Bergee) of Harleysville, Pennsylvania, won the Lemelson Award for Invention. The Lemelson Foundation gives it to a student who creates promising solutions to real-world problems. Bergey developed a trap to capture the Spotted Lanternfly, a non-native species causing damage to trees in Pennsylvania. She got her idea when she was climbing on her favorite tree at her family’s farm.

Sidor (CIDER) Clare, from Sandy, Utah, won the Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation. She developed bricks that one day could be made on the planet Mars. That way, astronauts would not have to bring building materials with them when they set up structures on the red planet. She says she will use her money for college.

Alexis MacAvoy from Hillsborough, California, won the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Advancement. It recognizes the student whose work shows the most promise in health-related fields, and an understanding of how social issues affect health. MacAvoy designed a water filter using carbon to remove heavy metals from water.

Lauren Ejiaga who lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, won the STEM Talent Award. It is given to a student for demonstrating excellence in science, technology, engineering or math, along with the leadership and technical skills necessary to excel in the future. Ejiaga studied how certain kinds of light from the sun affect plant growth and performance. DoD STEM, a program of the U.S. Defense Department, presented the award.

The Broadcom MASTERS winners were among 30 finalists -- 18 girls and 12 boys. They were chosen from 2,348 candidate students in 47 states. A group of scientists, engineers and educators selected the winners. Each finalist’s middle school will receive $1,000 from the Broadcom MASTERS to support the school’s science program.

I’m Anne Ball.

And I'm Bryan Lynn.

Anne Ball wrote this story, with information the Associated Press and Popular Mechanics. The editor was George Grow.

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Words in This Story

innovator – n. a person show does something in a new way

pursue – v. to follow or continue

sponsor v. to provide support for; to finance

pillar – n. a large pole or structure that helps to hold something up something

brick – n. building material used to set up structures and sometimes to make streets, or paths

filter – n. a device that is used to remove something unwanted from a liquid or gas that passes through it

excel – v. to be better than others