Cheshire Engineers Of The Future Take Top Honors At State Fair

Over the last several years, there has been a national emphasis placed on encouraging more students to participate in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Particular focus has been put on increasing the number of female students who pursue a career in the STEM fields and, in Cheshire, the results seem to be paying off.

A total of eight Cheshire students recently participated in the Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair, where middle and high school-aged participants were asked to devise and construct devices with real-world applications. The event, which was held from March 7th through the 19th, was conducted virtually, with presentations and judging done online. However, even with the continued restrictions, students were able to showcase their creations and receive constructive feedback.

And for some local students, awards were handed out.

Suchita Srinivasan, an eighth-grader at Dodd Middle School, and Avery Fowler, a seventh-grader at St. Bridget School, were two of the 16 finalists chosen to participate in the upcoming Broadcom MASTERS national competition.

Individual state science fairs have the flexibility to send approximately 10% of projects to Broadcom, however the Connecticut fair decided to send only 16 of the more than 600 projects that were submitted.

Of those that are invited, the top 300 are announced in early September and given a prize pack. The top 30 are then announced later in the month, with the finalists receiving an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, DC to compete in person plus additional prizes for themselves and their school.

“So many (participants) in the Fair were extremely talented,” said Srinivasan. “One student had created a device to detect whether a child was stuck in a well. I thought my project was really cool, but I knew how many amazing projects there were. I’m just so happy things went the way they did.”

Srinivasan’s submission to the Fair was a domestic violence alert device, designed to try and help those who may be a victim of a violent crime. Srinivasan recalls learning about a classmate who had been the victim of domestic violence, and how hard it was to process what that experience must be like.

“I kept thinking, ‘I wonder what happened to him?’” Srinivasan remembered. “It was just something that really stayed with me.”

The middle-schooler began to think even more about domestic violence during the pandemic, after reading a statistic that showed such incidents had increased throughout the public health crisis.

“It was really alarming to see that, during the pandemic, (domestic violence) went up around 30%,” said Srinivasan. “I just kept thinking about how lives could be changed in just one moment.”

The device uses an analog sound level meter to detect what would amount to a loud scream. Connected directly to a mobile app, the device then sends a text message to the phone of the individual, informing them that such a sound had been recorded and asking them to verify that they are all right. If the recorded sound had nothing to do with a violent incident, the individual can signal via a text response that everything is OK. If, however, the individual does not respond, a subsequent text would be sent to either the authorities or someone listed as an emergency contact.

Srinivasan acknowledges that the device works somewhat like a home alarm system, where the owner has a few seconds to input their passcode and disarm the alarm upon entering the household. If the code is not put in, an alert is sent to authorities that a possible break-in is occurring.

There is one big difference, however, between the two systems — no warning sound is heard when the text is sent, since the person in that situation may not want to alert their attacker to the fact that they are signaling for help.

For Fowler, the idea for her project stemmed from her own life experiences.

“I have two goats,” explained Fowler. “They are identical and I can’t tell them apart. I was wondering which was which.”

The personal conundrum got the young Fowler thinking, was there a low-cost way to easily identify the difference between the two goats and could it then be applied to situations where hundreds of livestock must be identified? Whether it be to access health information to present to a veterinarian or identify a lost goat, the uses are multiple.

“The idea was to have the best working materials at the lowest possible cost,” explained Fowler.

Farmers who have hundreds of livestock can use costly systems to identify their animals and access important information about each one, however Fowler was looking for a way to offer a similar service using already-available hardware and software. Initially, she hoped to use the microchips already inserted into her goats, however she found that the technology wasn’t compatible. Instead, she turned her attention to using an identification collar and an app that could read the collar.

In order to complete the project, Fowler had to familiarize herself with computer coding, which she admits took some time.

“That was the biggest challenge,” she stated. “I am fairly new to coding, so just coming into this new thing, it took a little bit for me to get (comfortable).”

Fowler used Python coding, described as a “high-level, general-purpose” programming language, along with Raspberry Pi hardware — single-board computers to use as the scanners. Ultimately, the project was successful, with Fowler able to access the information using the affordable hardware and software.

“It was definitely a huge sense of accomplishment,” she said.

Entering the Fair, Fowler admits to being really nervous, especially when it came to interacting with the judges. “I was afraid I wouldn’t know any of the answers to their questions,” she said, with a laugh.

However, the youngster handled herself admirably and when it came time to announce who the winners were, she and her family gathered around the television screen. “We had (an announcement) on livestream on the television,” she said. “When I found out (about her first-place finish) I was so shocked. I wasn’t expecting (to take) first.”

While Fowler and Srinivasan move on to the finals, other award winners look forward to entering their devices at other upcoming competitions. One of them is well known to Srinivasan — her sister, Sagarika.

For her project, Sagarika Srinivasan, an 11th grader at Cheshire High School, created a drunk driving detector. The device, connected to the driver’s side of a person’s vehicle, is alerted when a person sits in the seat thereby releasing it to drop in front of the individual and record their blood-alcohol level via a breathalyzer. If the person is over the limit, an alert is sent to a contact.

Sagarika Srinivasan began thinking about the device after a discussion in her health class last November.

“We discussed how people have poor judgment … when they are drunk,” said Sagarika, “and how the advice was not to drink and then drive, to get a (designated driver), and more. But I was thinking that, at that moment, so many other things are going through people’s heads. They may feel pressure to say, ‘I’m fine, I can drive.’”

That realization spurred Sagarika Srinivasan on to create a device that would immediately prompt the driver to check their own sobriety, providing them the opportunity to take a moment and make a more informed decision.

For her creation, Sagarika Srinivasan was named a Senior High School Finalist Medallion winner for the Stanley Black & Decker Applied Science Awards. She, along with her sister, will be competing in the upcoming Connecticut Invention Convention.

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