Hannah Herbst is a 9th-grade student from Boca Raton, Florida who attends Florida Atlantic University High School. She was recently awarded the title of America’s Top Young Scientist and took home the $25,000 grand prize in the 17th annual Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Hannah created an ocean energy probe called BEACON (Bringing Electricity Access to Countries Through Ocean Energy Collection), which aims to provide a stable power source and freshwater to developing countries around the globe by using untapped energy from ocean currents.
Congratulations on earning this coveted title! I read that your interest in “energy poverty” and sustainable, renewable power was inspired in part by your Ethiopian pen pal. How did the two of you connect and how did she inspire you?
Thank you so much! My pen pal Ruth and I were put in contact through an organization called Compassion International. Energy Poverty is a huge problem today. We are living in the era of technology, with easy access to lights, computers, running water and more. After doing research, I learned that more than 1/5 of our global population lacks access to electricity and is living in energy poverty. I knew that I wanted to do something to contribute to solving this problem, and with the help of the Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge and my 3M Mentor Jeffrey Emslander, I was able to do so.
Who or what sparked your interest in science?
The summer before entering seventh grade, my parents placed me in a summer engineering and technology camp at Florida Atlantic University. Honestly, I wanted nothing to do with the camp, since I was very interested in sports and theater at the time, and I already had quite a packed schedule that summer. I arrived at the camp and discovered that I was the only girl! I remember the counselor showing us a video of a First Lego Robot. I saw it move around the screen, completing different challenges and battling other robots. I remember thinking that I could never make something like that, but just a few hours later, I had a working robot that I had constructed and programmed! I was mesmerized and very excited, and I have loved engineering ever since.
Although your core concept of harvesting sustainable power from ocean currents remained the same, I noticed your end product looks quite different than your initial prototype. Tell me about the process of improving developing your prototype.
I started out by creating the handheld iteration of my prototype series. The handheld prototype had an internal pulley system and a 3D Printed propeller. It worked efficiently, however I realized that it would not be practical to bend over and hold an ocean energy probe to generate power. I began to develop the stationary prototype, BEACON 2.0, under my 3M Mentor Mr. Jeff Emslander. The most difficult part of developing BEACON 2.0 was making it user-friendly.
I had so many ideas! I ended up refining my prototype and integrating several 3M Parts into my design to protect against the corrosive saltwater environment during testing in the Boca Raton Inlet, the access port that connects the Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic Ocean. After weeks of communication with my mentor, designing, planning, and several trips back to the drawing board, I created a working prototype that generated enough power to illuminate an LED Light system!
I realized that I could make further improvements to my prototype, as there is limited access to products such as carbon-fiber tubing and metal brackets in developing countries. I went on to create the recycled materials iteration of my device, that costs only $12 and is made out of very low-cost materials such as recycled spoons, two-liter bottles, and 3D Printed materials.
What are the key lessons you learned from your involvement in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge and why should students enter next year?
The Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge has provided several amazing opportunities, such as working with my 3M Scientist mentor Mr. Emslander, being able to bond with nine other amazing finalists, and spending three days at the 3M Innovation Center. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget!
Don’t be afraid to apply. Development of a two-minute video is easy and fun! It was that video that led to three days at the 3M Innovation Center, a chance to work with a real scientist, and the opportunity to win $25,000!
I have learned several lessons over the course of developing my project. First, I learned the three C’s of science from my mentor: creativity, collaboration, and communication.
Second, I learned not to fear failure, as it will happen! Failure is just another word for growth, and over the summer I have learned to embrace failure as an opportunity rather than an unfortunate event. Finally, I have learned that a person should always be confident in who you are and what your research is. I am a female engineer, scientist, and innovator, so I have a lot to prove, but by continuing to be confident and positive, I can overcome any obstacle.
What’s your advice for other girls who want to follow in your footsteps?
As cliché as it sounds, my advice for other girls in STEM is to be yourself. Be quirky, excited, confident, and embrace failure. Let who you are out! Also, you don’t need a lab to be an engineer. All you need to get started is a question. Brainstorm, research, and get excited about your topic. Obstacles will arise and people will doubt you, but no matter what anyone says, DO NOT GIVE UP!
Disclosure: This was not a sponsored post. However, I am a paid guest blogger at the Young Scientist Challenge Blog (click to read my posts!) and the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge is a two-time #STEMchat sponsor.