2017 finalists tackling the challenges of tomorrow, today

Sydney teen invents device to reduce drownings

It was while working as a lifeguard at a public swimming pool in Sydney that teenager Maddison King came up with an invention that won her a coveted place in the finals of the 2017 BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards.

The pool where Maddison worked as a lifeguard brought in a rip simulator to teach water safety to kids. It was while watching the kids struggling to escape the powerful rips that Maddison began thinking that if swimmers knew where dangerous rips were then they wouldn’t swim there and lives could be saved.

Rips are deceptively placid sea waters that lure people to swim in what are actually treacherous currents. Rips are responsible for the deaths of at an average of 21 Australian swimmers a year. Ninety percent of beach rescues are of swimmers who get into trouble in rips.

Maddison figured the energy of the rips could be harnessed to power a warning light to alert swimmers to the dangers in that stretch of sea. Once she had the idea, she built the device which she calls Clever GIRL (Global Intelligent Rip Locator).

“The potential energy in the rip is transformed to kinetic energy when the rip speed spins the turbine underneath the water. This turbine is attached to a generator in the buoy, so the kinetic energy is transformed into electrical energy,” explains Maddison. “This electrical energy then powers the light at the top of the buoy, thus giving an instant warning that a rip is underneath and swimmers should not swim there.”

The 17-year-old who has just graduated from high school is one of 26 Australian teenagers who have been chosen as finalists in the country’s longest running and most prestigious school science and engineering awards. The BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards are a proving ground for the next generation of Australian scientists and inventors. The Awards reward young people who have undertaken practical research projects that demonstrate innovative approaches and thorough scientific or engineering procedures.

The finalists compete for a range of prizes including the chance to represent Australia at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in the United States in May 2017. The winners will be announced at a ceremony in Melbourne on February 7

“I’m very proud of what the Awards aim to achieve in encouraging students to explore, research and delight in the study of science, and challenge their understanding of the world around them,” said Karen Wood, Chairman of the BHP Billiton Foundation.

Other finalists include brothers Declan and Callum Predavec who also focused on safety with their invention. They developed a laser system that warns cars if they get too close to bicycles on shared roads. Other submissions that are in the running range from household robots and drones capable of carrying parcels, to scientific research into soil salinity, antibiotic resistant bacteria and potential interventions to prevent diabetes.

“STEM drives innovation globally but in Australia the participation and engagement in STEM subjects by school students is declining. These Awards are an innovative and inspiring way to connect with future STEM professionals and encourage them to join us in tackling the challenges of tomorrow. The work that these students have done is truly inspiring and I have high hopes for the future of Australia”, said Dr Larry Marshall, Chief Executive CSIRO.

The Awards have been running since 1981 and are a partnership between the BHP Billiton Foundation, CSIRO and the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA).