Stitching with STEM: Holly Jackson, 14, Awarded 2014 Broadcom MASTERS $25,000 Grand Prize

Holly Jackson with Science Fair Project
Holly Jackson, 14, won the 2014 Broadcom MASTERS top accolade, the $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize, her research and analysis of the engineering compatibility, strength and efficiency of fabric and stitching materials.

Holly Jackson, a middle school student from San Jose, Calif., proved this week that there is some serious science in the most quotidian things— such as the very stitches that hold together seat belts and airbags.

At an awards ceremony at the Carnegie Institute in Washington, D.C. this week, Holly was selected from among an impressive group of peers for the $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize.

“Sewing is important in parachutes, air bags, space suits, blimps, seat belts and anything that requires pieces of fabric to be connected together,” she said.

Holly’s experiment using shear forces as the stresses for testing two different thread materials and four types of stitches — was just one reason why she won the top accolade in the 2014 Broadcom MASTERS science and engineering competition.

During a week of intense competition, Holly proved herself a leader among her peers — a group of 29 other finalists in the Broadcom MASTERS. She earned the top award for her ability to apply 21st century skills, such as critical thinking, collaboration and communication, during the complex team challenges of the past week.

The week had one extraordinary standout—some face-time with the President, who has put science, technology, engineering and math education at the forefront of the White House’s Educate to Innovate Initiative.

For her project, Holly researched which type of lockstitch, a stitch made from two interlocked threads, would be strongest: straight, stretch, zigzag or three-point zigzag. She tested nylon or polyester thread to stitch together identical swatches of cotton, denim or nylon fabric.

She engineered a device to measure the capacity and strength of her stitched fabric, and designed experiments and procedures with controlled variables and precise measurements. She hemmed the opposite ends of her 120 samples and passed a steel rod through each loop. She then connected one rod to a winch and nestled the other atop a bathroom scale to measure the downward force. A high-speed camera recorded when each sample failed. Holly measured, recorded and graphed the force it took to pull apart each sample.

Holly demonstrated a deeper understanding of the potential applications for the outcome of her research, with implications for things such as protective gear for contagious diseases such as Ebola, “hazmat” suits for emergency medical and environmental response, space suits and even interplanetary parachutes for NASA.

“It is important that a seam is as strong as it can be,” she said. “In devices like parachutes and seat belts, a person’s life may be dependent on the strength of a seam.”

Other Winners

Also honored tonight was Sahar Khashayar, 14, of Laguna Niguel, Calif., who won the $10,000 Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation in recognition of engineering excellence for her project on wildfire early warning systems.

Sahar Khashayer with science fair project
Sahar Khashayar, 14, of Laguna Niguel, Calif., who won the $10,000 Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation in recognition of engineering excellence for her project on wildfire early warning systems.

Sahar was inspired to study wildfires after the deadly 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona. She wondered if there was a way to detect wildfires before they became uncontrollable and created a device that can detect the three “signatures” of a fire: heat, smoke and infrared radiation. She wrote a program to send a warning via Bluetooth® to a smartphone if the detector sensed values that suggested a fire.

Other winners included:

Science Awards: First place went to James Roney of Santa Barbara, Calif., for his project on ant pheromones and food quality. Second place went to Daniel Bruce of San Diego for his project on the impact of human presence on lagoon birds.

Technology Awards: First place went to Aditya Jain of Portland, Ore., for his project on an automated diagnostic tool for lung cancer solitary pulmonary nodules. Second went to Nikhil Behari of Sewickley, Penn., for his project on latencies, haptics and passwords.

Engineering Awards: First place went to Chythanya Murali of Little Rock, Ark., for her project on better methods for cleaning up oil spills. Second place went to Annika Urban, of Pittsburgh, for her project on stethoscopes that record and transmit breath and chest sounds.

Mathematics Awards: First place went to Rajiv Movva of San Jose, Calif., for his project on finding a natural remedy for type 2 diabetics. Second place went to Jonathan Okasinski of Harleysville, Penn., for his project on quantum entanglement.

Rising Stars Award:  Annie Ostojic of Munster, Ind., and Raghav Ganesh of San Jose, Calif., win a trip to Intel ISEF, the world’s largest international high school science fair competition, in May 2015 as the United States Delegates to Broadcom MASTERS International, in recognition of their work throughout the Broadcom MASTERS finals, as well as their projects on how food could be microwaved more efficiently, and a new interactive add-on for a white cane for the visually impaired, respectively.

View Photos from MASTERS Week in Washington, D.C.

Public Day 2014
Broadcom MASTERS finalists present their projects.

The Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars) program helps middle school students translate a personal interest into a passion for science, engineering and innovation, and encourages them to continue with science and math through high school.

Sponsored by Broadcom Foundation, a non-profit public benefit organization funded by Broadcom Corporation, the Broadcom MASTERS is a program of Society for Science & the Public. SSP has been the leader of the world’s most prestigious science competitions for more than seven decades.

For more information on the Broadcom MASTERS, visit the Broadcom Foundation and SSP websites or visit Broadcom Foundation’s Newsroom and read the B-Inspired Blog. To keep up with the Broadcom MASTERS on Twitter, use hashtag #brcmMASTERS or follow Broadcom and SSP. And to stay connected, visit the Broadcom MASTERS and SSP Facebook pages.