Innovation is important in the future of science, and Lauren Barber will be right there challenging the status quo.
Lauren, 16, a sophomore at Ravenscroft in Raleigh, is an accomplished science fair veteran who is always looking to improve something.
As a seventh-grader at St. Timothy’s School in Raleigh, she created an elaborate project exploring tidal energy. It earned a third-place finish at the North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair, but she wasn’t satisfied with the test results.
So she simplified the procedure, made some modifications and went on to win the N.C. science fair in the eighth grade. The project also earned her a semifinal berth at the Broadcom MASTERS, a national middle school science fair competition.
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“I like building things,” Lauren said. “I don’t like to repeat something that everyone knows or information that’s learned. I like the whole creative process.”
Her tidal energy project began when she wondered whether it would be a viable energy source for North Carolina.
“It’s not as well-known as the other alternative energies. I wanted to dig deeper into that,” Lauren said. “I’ve studied solar and wind and wanted to do something different. I’ve always been concerned about the environment. We need to find different alternate energy sources.”
The project consisted of different ways to capture tidal energy. She used scale models of three devices – a point absorber, an attenuator and an oscillating water column – that harness tidal energy. She floated them in a large fish tank, documenting their movement with waves in generating energy.
The point absorber measures up-and-down movement on the water. The attenuator measures side-to-side movement. The oscillating water column, a complex system, is a box that captures energy from the motion of the waves going in and out of an opening in the box.
She measured the energy by connecting magnets and copper wiring to the devices and hooked them to a volt meter.
“The simplest model, the point absorber was the best,” Lauren said. “The oscillating water column did not work at all.”
She tweaked some things to improve the project in eighth grade, taking the two best performing devices – the point absorber and attenuator – and combining them. The results were impressive.
“You have two motions, up-and-down and side-to-side. So getting all the motions, if you have something like that, you’re able to capture that energy, and it can be used in real-life situations,” she said. “There’s nothing out there like that. The combined model had a 50 percent increase in power.”
The project won first place in North Carolina and was chosen as one of the top 300 out of 6,000 nominees at the Broadcom MASTERS.
Getting inspiration from a doctor
The project’s success earned Lauren an invitation to the Association of Science-Technology Centers’ Conference at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences last October. Lauren met and was inspired by the event’s keynote speaker, Dr. Hayat Sindi, a medical scientist who invented a patch that tests blood for diseases.
“I really like medicine, not in sense of becoming a physician but designing devices and such,” Lauren said. “In the past, I was into environmental engineering. I have a new-found interest in biochemical engineering from being around her and the exposure of getting deeper into the biology and chemistry.”
Lauren’s love of science began early.
She did her first science project – documenting her rock collection – in the first grade. Over the next eight years, she would do projects involving soil, building a solar oven, testing windmill blades for optimal energy and testing shoe heels on wood floors.
“Lauren’s willingness to accept criticism and to learn from past experiences served her well,” said Jody Whitley, a science teacher at St. Timothy’s. “Lauren has always been a student that strived to work the problem in order to find an answer.”
This year, Lauren has joined the Science Olympiad club at the school and is looking forward to the activities it will provide.
Lauren had an early supporter and competitor in her brother Justin, a senior at Ravenscroft who wants to be a civil engineer.
“My whole family is science-oriented,” she said “I grew up with a passion for it.”
About the series
Through Oct. 19, Thumbs Up is highlighting students who excel in STEM activities and education, a curriculum that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math.
Don’t miss STEMology
The News & Observer and Bayer CropScience are teaming up to bring you STEMology, an event designed to bring together STEM leaders and students. It will feature student demonstrations, interactive displays, a panel discussion and food.
When: Oct. 22, 5:30-8:30 p.m. Where: Raleigh Marriott City Center, 500 Fayetteville St. Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for ages 6-17, free for ages 5 and under.