Alaina Gassler

Alaina Gassler

WEST GROVE—Avon Grove Charter School Student, Alaina Gassler, has been selected as a top 30 finalist in the Broadcom MASTERS, the nation’s premier STEM competition for middle school students.

She is only one of two finalists from the state of PA. Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars), a program founded and produced by the Society for Science & the Public, seeks to inspire young scientists, engineers and innovators who will solve the grand challenges of the future.

Finalists were selected by a panel of distinguished scientists and engineers from over 2,300 applicants in 47 states, DC, and 2 US territories. Alaina will next compete in Washington, DC for the top award of $25,000 in late October after a rigorous competition that will test their abilities in STEM, critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration.

Alaina’s family owns a Jeep Grand Cherokee, but her mom doesn’t like driving the vehicle because of its large A-pillar design. Those pillars are the vertical supports on each side of the windshield, and their large size provides more protection in case of a rollover crash. However, their size and angle also result in blind spots. Blind spots are areas that drivers can’t see from their usual sitting position at the wheel, either directly with their eyes or with help from the car’s mirrors. “I started to think about how blind spots are a huge problem in all cars,” Alaina says. She decided to design a device to deal with the problem.

“My prototype had to reduce blind spots in a safe, efficient way,” Alaina says. The materials had to be affordable and easily accessible. The device had to be practical and work in different lighting conditions. She also noted that the design should not lead to other kinds of car accidents. The solution she came up with uses a webcam mounted outside the passenger side A-pillar. The camera images are then displayed on the inside of the pillar so the driver can see them. Alaina’s first prototype used a projector inside the car to show the images. She used 3-D printing to make a special part so the projector’s image would focus properly at close range. The system worked in test drives with her dad. However, bright light sometimes made it hard to see the projector’s images. Alaina plans to use LCD screens (liquid crystal display screens) for her next prototype. “LCD screens are easier to see in daylight than projected images,” she said.

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