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."
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.
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.