Age: 18Fort Collins, CO
Project Title: Solar-Powered Ozone and UVC-Based Decontaminator
Alyssa is an eighteen-year-old student from Fort Collins, Colorado. Ever since she was little, she has been fascinated by electronics and how they work. At five years old, she took apart an old fax machine to see what was inside. Alyssa is honored to be a part of the Davidson Fellows’ community and hopes to use this opportunity to further her multidisciplinary research and interest in engineering.
Foodborne illness is more prevalent and deadly than many people realize. In some parts of the world, methods of sterilizing food are inaccessible or non-reusable. After the Ebola virus scare in 2014, Alyssa became interested in transmissible diseases and their vectors. This led her to design and build a portable device for removing pathogens from utensils and food in off-the-grid locations. For the next five years, Alyssa designed, built and tested three more devices, expanding and improving their capabilities each year. Her final device is capable of decreasing the presence of bacteria by 99% on a variety of foods and utensils.
Alyssa did the majority of her project at home, in her family’s garage. She taught herself about circuits and learned how to write code. Through a process of trial and error, she built and tested mechanical moving parts that she handcrafted. Google became her best friend. A former teacher was instrumental in helping her contact and work with Colorado State University’s microbiology laboratory. Those at the microbiology lab introduced her to other professors who allowed her to conduct further research in their labs. Working in these labs gave her unique, multidisciplinary experiences not offered in the traditional classroom.
The final prototype of the device is self-contained and runs off of solar power. Its ability to be used in multiple locations and climates makes it a valuable tool for communities in need of safe and reusable methods to decontaminate food and other items of pathogens that cause foodborne illness. If scaled-up for manufacturing and shared around the world, the device could help save many of the lives claimed by foodborne illnesses each year.
Because of the partnership between Alyssa’s school district and the local university, she was able to take advanced classes in physics and math her senior year. Alyssa also became active in science fairs starting in middle school, and her interest was supported throughout high school by her dedicated middle school science teachers as well as her high school chemistry and calculus teachers. Alyssa will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, majoring in electrical engineering and computer science.
Alyssa has always loved sharing science. She competed and placed at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) twice, earning second and third grand awards in consecutive years. Alyssa also participated in the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, placing first in engineering and technology. She hopes to make her passion into a career, working as a scientist or engineer on impactful issues such as climate change, clean energy or creating new medical devices. During high school, Alyssa served as an officer for her National Honor Society chapter, helping coordinate student volunteer opportunities in the local community. In her free time, she likes to read, mountain bike, and paint.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In a lab of some sort, making something new!
If you could have dinner with the five most interesting people in the world, living or dead, who would they be?
My Dad’s parents, who I never got to meet; Clair Cameron Patterson, who is the reason we all don’t have lead poisoning; Ruth Bader Ginsburg; and Albert Einstein.
In the News
FORT COLLINS TEEN AWARDED $25,000 FOR DEVELOPING TECHNOLOGY TO REDUCE BACTERIA THAT CAUSES FOODBORNE ILLNESS
Alyssa Keirn to be Named a 2020 Davidson Fellow Scholarship Winner
Fort Collins, Colo. – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2020 scholarship winners. Among the honorees is 18-year-old Alyssa Keirn of Fort Collins. Keirn won a $25,000 scholarship for her project, Solar-Powered Ozone and UVC-Based Decontaminator. She is one of only 20 students across the country to be recognized as a scholarship winner.
“I am honored to be a part of the Davidson Fellows’ community,” said Keirn. “I hope to use this opportunity to further my multidisciplinary research and interest in engineering.”
More than 420,000 people worldwide die annually from foodborne illnesses, and nearly 30 percent are children under the age of five. To combat this, Keirn designed, built, and tested a portable, solar powered device to decontaminate a variety of bacteria from foods and utensils in areas where access to easy cleaning methods or electricity is limited. The device is controlled by a single board Raspberry Pi computer and uses a combination of UVC light and ozone gas in a sealed, reflective aluminum chamber to kill bacteria. The device reduced various types of bacteria present on the surface of products such as potatoes, kale, eggs, and eating utensils by more than 99 percent.
Keirn will be attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall where she plans to study electrical engineering and computer science.
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The following disclosure is provided pursuant to Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) 598.1305:The Davidson Institute for Talent Development is a Nevada non-profit corporation which is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt private operating foundation. We are dedicated to supporting the intellectual and social development of profoundly gifted students age 18 and under through a variety of programs. Contributions are tax deductible.
Profoundly gifted students are those who score in the 99.9th percentile on IQ and achievement tests. Read more about this population in this article.