Science fairs are full of creative projects with chemical explosions and electrical experiments. For three students at Clovis North High School, a science fair project could be an innovation for the future.
Anchit Narain, Alex Tacescu, and Robert “Robbie” Tacescu developed collegiate-level projects that placed in the 2016 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which included more than 1,700 students from more than 75 countries. These achievements highlight the beginnings of very bright futures for these young men.
Jonathan Bowns, Clovis North science teacher and science fair director, mentored and encouraged the students during the course of their research.
“We’ve gone to this international science fair for five years in a row,” Bowns said. “We’d never had any students place from Clovis North. To have three of them place in one year was quite extraordinary.”
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High school senior Narain, 17, explained that his project centered around creating a new supercapacitor system to rival lithium-ion batteries as a source of energy and power in the future.
“I made a new supercapacitor that’s cheaper to produce, and it can hold half as much of the energy density as a battery can,” Narain explained. “It’s a five times improvement over what current supercapacitors have, but it can still charge really quickly, and it can also hold that capacitance with a very low amount of loss over different kinds of current density loads. It could power a small LED, and it could also power a big fan.”
Narain’s research allowed him to conduct his experiments last summer at UC Santa Cruz under a graduate student mentor. His project earned him $1,000 and third place in the category of Energy: Chemical.
Senior Alex Tacescu, 18, began working on his project about two years ago after visiting his late grandfather, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Using skills gained from the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition team at Clovis North, Alex was able to create Project Maverick, which he describes as “an omni-directional robotic mobility system.” It is designed to aid people with walking disabilities while combating the risks of muscular atrophy.
“My solution was to have them [users] stand up to prevent muscular atrophy and at the same time, design and innovate with a new drive system to help them move around more efficiently,” he said.
The first full-working prototype of Project Maverick earned Alex first place at the Central California Regional Science Math and Engineering Fair; $1,500 and second place in the category of Engineering Mechanics at the Intel international science fair; and an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
Younger brother Robbie Tacescu, a 16-year-old sophomore, also competed and placed in the Intel international science fair by creating a quadrotor helicopter that never crashes.
“I received a trainer quadcopter from my parents for my 13th birthday, and I loved flying it, but I wasn’t the best at flying it,” Robbie said. “I would often crash it into a wall, and I knew this was a huge issue for other quadcopter enthusiasts. I wanted to create a system that wouldn’t allow it to crash.”
This quadcopter protects itself and its surroundings by navigating around potential obstacles or stopping before collisions occur.
“It uses an array of 3D infrared time-of-flight sensors to detect and avoid objects around it,” he explained. “In autonomous mode, when it’s flying by itself, it can go around objects. If you tell it to go from point A to point B, and there’s a tree in the way, it will avoid the tree.”
Robbie’s project earned him in $1,000 and third place in the category Robotics and Intelligent Machines.
The success of these students’ inventions has gained attention from the surrounding community and companies, allowing the potential for patents to be secured and for mass production later on.
Narain explained that he is working with UC Santa Cruz to get his material patented.
“The end goal is hopefully to one day make a product out of it,” he said.
Alex said that he is in the process of getting his idea patented, as well. He is also working with an investor to plan the improvement and manufacture of his product. Support from sponsors has been a great help for him in regard to manufacturing and funding during the prototyping phase.
“First we want to do a few more prototype runs, then have an actual real world test where we select a few people and have them test it in their day-to-day lives,” he said. “Hopefully in the future, we can get everything worked out and get things mass produced to a point where if people need it, they can have it.”
Robbie said he is in contact with PMD Technologies, the company that manufactures the sensors used in his experiment, and he hopes to have his upgraded quadcopter system mass produced one day.
Upon graduation, Narain and Alex Tacescu have big plans for their futures.
Narain is attending Stanford University in the fall. He wants to continue his research and hopefully work with fellow students and professors with interests similar to his own.
“I think that energy research is really important for the future of this planet, not only this country but the whole planet,” he said. “I think it’s really important to move away from sort of carbon-based, fossil fuel resources, and so that’s why since seventh grade, my research has really focused on alternative energy sources.”
In the fall, Alex will attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is excited for the competitive robotics competitions at the collegiate level.
“My plan is to go all the way to a Ph.D. in robotics engineering,” he said. “I plan on working with these all my life, and it’s really a passion and a joy to work with all of this.”
Though Robbie Tacescu is only a sophomore, he is already thinking ahead about his college career.
“I plan on going either to Stanford or Berkeley; those would be my dream colleges,” Robbie said. “I want to major in computer science and possibly specialize in AI, artificial intelligence.”
Robbie also wants to compete in the science fair and hopefully advance to the international level next year.
“I plan on improving my project and making it work better, faster, more efficient, and possibly turning this into a product,” he said.