A thirteen-year-old, Bay Area girl credits her long-time interest in how the world works with her recent success in Broadcom MASTERS nationwide science, technology, engineering and math competition for middle school students.
Georgia Hutchinson, a student at Woodside Elementary School, won the top prize and $25,000 for a project that allows solar panels to gather more sunlight by tracking the sun and adjusting the panels during the day. She calls the device a data-driven, dual-axis solar tracker. Despite the fancy name, the idea was born out of impatience.
"When I heard about the 2018 solar eclipse, I knew I had to go," said Hutchinson. "And so my dad and I drove up to Oregon and on the way my uncle called to say he had just put in solar panels on his roof and in 20 years he’d have free electricity. I thought 20 years was far too long."
And there, in the car, she started thinking about how she could make solar panels more efficient.
Hutchinson told KQED that if scientists could pinpoint the location of the sun so precisely for the eclipse, information must be available to determine optimal solar panel adjustments. With that, Hutchinson was off and running.
When asked how she even knew where to start, her answer was automatic,"Google, of course."
Hutchinson's device and computer program use publicly available data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration instead of expensive sensors to track the sun and tilt solar panels for optimal power production.
The young scientist is now working on getting a patent for her invention and plans to use the competition's $25,000 prize money for her education.
Meanwhile, The Society for Science & the Public and the Broadcom Foundation, which supported the competition, also gave $1,000 to the STEM program at Hutchinson's school, which is now a two-time winner.
Perhaps the school's third winner was sitting there in the bleachers as the school celebrated Hutchinson's success with cheers and chants at a Monday morning assembly.
From the smallest of elementary school students up to Hutchinson's 8th-grade peers, students applauded her as she told them to give the fair a try next year, after all, she said, "Science isn't just for Einstein, it's for everybody."