Girls won all five top prizes in national STEM contest for middle schoolers

Fourteen-year-old Alaina Gassler had noticed her mother struggling with blind spots while driving their family's car. Though not even old enough to drive herself, the Pennsylvania middle schooler designed a system that uses a webcam to display obstacles blocking a driver's line of sight to make driving safer.

Last week, that design project earned Gassler the $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize, the top award in the 2019 Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars) competition.


"Congratulations to Alaina, whose project has the potential to decrease the number of automobile accidents by reducing blind spots," said Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of the Society for Science & the Public and Publisher of Science News. "With so many challenges in our world, Alaina and her fellow Broadcom MASTERS finalists make me optimistic. I am proud to lead an organization that is inspiring so many young people, especially girls, to continue to innovate."

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Indeed, Gassler wasn't the only girl to shine in the national contest. All five top awards were won by 14-year-old girls, with projects ranging from trapping invasive species to improving water filtration systems to designing bricks that could be used to build on Mars.

The five winners were chosen from 30 finalists selected from 2,348 applicants in 47 states by a panel of distinguished scientists, engineers and educators. This year, 60% of the finalists were female—a first for the competition. That's an encouraging sign for the STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) field, in which women are still underrepresented.

"Congratulations to all our amazing finalists!" said Paula Golden, President of the Broadcom Foundation. "It is exciting to see so many young women scientists and engineers – 60% – in the competition this year. I believe that this bodes well for achieving greater gender equity in future STEM careers."

While the results of this competition are promising, research shows that it's not necessarily initial interest and involvement in STEM that's the problem—it's that women tend to slip out of the STEM career pipeline somewhere along the way. Nonetheless, a solid foundation in STEM and early achievements and accolades may encourage more girls to stick with their science and engineering pursuits.

RELATED: If your daughter loved Shuri in 'Black Panther,' she'll love these badass STEM programs.

Congratulations to the top five winners:

The Samueli Foundation Prize: $25,000
Alaina Gassler,
Improving Automobile Safety by Removing Blindspots

Lemelson Award for Invention: $10,000
Rachel Bergey,
Spotted Lanternflies: Stick'em or Trick'em

Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation: $10,000
Sidor Clare,
Bound and Bricked

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Advancement: $10,000
Alexis MacAvoy,
Designing Efficient, Low-Cost, Eco-Friendly Activated Carbon for Removal of Heavy Metals from Water

STEM Talent Award, sponsored by DoD STEM: $10,000
Lauren Ejiaga,
Ozone Depletion: How it Affects Us

What an inspiring lineup of young women working to make our lives better through science and technology. Though women still have an uphill climb to achieve gender parity in STEM fields, the future is looking bright in these kids' hands.

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We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

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Photo courtesy of Kara Coley.

"Good evening," Coley answered. "Thank you for calling Sipps!"

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