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Students from DC area and Ghana visit Thinkabit Lab to improve prototypes for major STEM competition

Thinkabit Lab Students improved prototypes for the World Smarts Challenge at Virginia Tech’s Thinkabit Lab

Before facing off at the IREX World Smarts STEM Challenge Contest and Showcase in Washington, D.C., last weekend, 48 students from high schools in the metro DC area and Ghana, Africa, headed off to the Thinkabit Lab at Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church.

In more than nine hours of interactive sessions at the lab, the students learned about programs offered by colleges and universities and a wide range of technical careers; benefited from hands-on coaching by Thinkabit Lab research faculty on how they could improve their prototypes; and practiced their presentations for judging on the following day at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

"I was impressed with all of the student finalists and their technical solutions to real-world alternative-energy needs and pollution-mitigation challenges," said Jim Egenrieder, research faculty and director of Virginia Tech's National Capital Region Thinkabit Lab. "They have all now discovered that empowering feeling of designing and building things that work and things that change the way people imagine the future. We need more activities like this -- that make STEM fun and authentic, but also inclusive, collaborative, and transformative."

Team “Big Bang Brains of the World,” comprised of students and teachers from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Edinaman Senior High School in Elmina, Ghana, won the competition with its Earth Battery prototype and demonstration of international collaboration. Their device works by converting the chemical energy in wet soil to electrical energy, powering an array of LED bulbs. Prototypes from the three other finalists included a natural water purifier, a sustainable exhaust filter, and a kinetic piezo-electric mat.

“Now that we can generate electricity from soil, it can help solve Ghana’s power crisis,” said Queen Jasmine Grant from Edinaman Senior High School in Ghana, a participant on the winning team. “The potential impact of the Earth Battery can help enhance children’s education by powering electricity in schools and household appliances.”

Egenrieder added, "The winning soil battery demystifies energy production and storage at a time when battery storage is evolving faster than ever. And the water filtration system prototype represents what may become part of every household in the future, as we learn to use and reuse precious water resources."

The IREX program leaders met the Qualcomm and Virginia Tech team at the Net Impact Conference in Philadelphia in November, 2016. The Thinkabit Labs were featured in breakout and collaboration sessions during the conference, leading to many other new partnerships.

Thinkabit Lab The students spent nine hours interacting in the lab

Virginia Tech and Qualcomm Inc. launched the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab last September to offer both teachers and students an engaging learning environment -- part lab, makerspace, and classroom -- to foster creativity, collaboration, and the critical skills necessary for young people who are likely to be working full time well beyond 2070. The Thinkabit Lab, led by Virginia Tech’s Department of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering and School of Education in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, is based on Qualcomm’s World of Work and STEM coursework. (The original Thinkabit Lab is located at Qualcomm’s San Diego headquarters.)

The IREX World Smarts STEM Challenge pairs high school teachers and students from different countries on gender-balanced, collaborative teams. Teams compete to create the best STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) solution to global problems inspired by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The challenge builds skills in innovation, investigation, problem-solving, technology literacy, and collaboration with people from different backgrounds. The purpose is to increase opportunities for diverse students -- boys and girls -- to be equipped with the skills and confidence needed to be successful in STEM careers.

This IREX World Smarts STEM Challenge is made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Posted March 23, 2017