Did a 15-year-old Florida girl just help solve the world climate and energy crises with inspiration from an Ethiopian pen pal? Maybe. As far as science projects go, it all sounds so straightforward. And brilliant! President Obama was impressed enough to meet Boca Raton eighth-grader Hannah Herbst, who showcased her brilliantly-simple idea at the White House Science Fair.
Proof of Concept
Herbst’s African pen pal made the teen think creatively about helping developing countries find a stable power source by using untapped energy from ocean currents.
(My pen pal) didn't have access to electricity. And 70% of the world's people are living in energy poverty. That's when I started thinking about renewable energy.
Herbst, whose dad is a dean at Florida Atlantic University, got hooked on science at a summer camp and eventually concocted an environmentally-friendly form of power generation with help from a 3M engineer. The design, nicknamed BEACON, was good enough to win the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge last fall, along with a $25,000 prize (she gave $1,000 to her 9-year-old pen pal’s family).
Where does her project, which is cheap to make (materials cost $12) and full of potential, go next? It’s unclear, but Herbst has already visited the White House, Google headquarters and met with Apple executives. And engineering is still new to her. It's no surprise then that Herbst will skip high school altogether and jump directly to college next fall. She’s been accepted to FAU.
In the months since the historic Paris climate change agreement, governments around the globe have vowed to junk dirty fuels—coal and oil—for renewables. Wind farms and fields of solar panels are in the works across the U.S. And the first affordable electric car, the Tesla Model 3, has already booked more than 300,000 orders. Time to get out of the way and let Millennials like Herbst lead the charge.
Out With the Old
If a 15-year-old can come up with a simple clean energy solution, then others have to show the political will to dismiss powerful energy interests and move in a new direction.