CARLSBAD — Two middle school students brought home a pair of awards from the annual ProjectCSGirls competition in Washington, D.C.
Pajaka Lakshmin and Aiko Lozar of Aviara Oaks Middle School, the only national award winners from Southern California, were tabbed honorable mention for their invention to combat terrorism.
There were three themes the students could choose from in the competition, including global health, safer world and smart technology.
“I was truly shocked to win the honorable mention award, and even make it to the National Gala,” Lozar said. “I was honestly not expecting any award. For me, learning about the technology and making a difference is reward enough.”
Anna Lozar coached the two girls, who registered during their seventh-grade year, for their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) project.
Lakshmin and Aiko Lozar began their project two months before the June deadline and committed at least six hours per week. In addition, Anna Lozar said a professor from the University of California, San Diego and a student from an East Coast university mentored the girls.
“The National Gala was amazing opportunity for me to meet girls my age and explore different fields of science,” Lakshmin said. “During the workshop the female mentors were really inspiring. They were breaking barriers and encouraged us to do so as well.”
As for their performance, the coach said it was unexpected the two Carlsbad students would do as well as they did, considering most of their competitors began their projects months earlier.
“We were very surprised, partly because they did it as a academic exercise and something for them to do as friends,” Anna Lozar said. “They won not only the trophies … but they won a swag bag and each got a $100 gift card.”
Their theoretical innovation, called Explosive Sensing Paint (ESP), is aimed to predict and prevent possible terrorist danger by detecting and identifying chemical explosives within indoor settings to notify a rapid response to alert and evacuate people quickly.
The paint is a nanopaint, or coating, which uses chemical nanosensor arrays consisting of Single Walled Carbon Nanotubes that are designed to interact and detect ambient gas and vapor molecules from different explosives.
A secondary device would wirelessly transmit the sensor signal data remotely to a computer program, which analyzes and interprets the data to determine the identity of the chemicals.
“They did really well under pressure,” Anna Lozar added. “They really cared about the topic.”
The ESP can also be used in a variety of applications.
The system can be used to detect drugs, biological weapons, environmental toxins, pollutants, smoke and carbon monoxide.
ProjectCSGirls aims to close the gender gap in computing and technology. The 2016 competition, which saw some 300-plus projects presented, drew more than 600 middle school girls from 35 states.
“They want to do it again and spread awareness about the program to get more girls into it,” Anna Lozar said.
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.