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Five questions with Samueli Foundation Award winner, Alaina Gassler

By Aparna Paul

Alaina at Broadcom MASTERS public exhibition of projects
Alaina at Broadcom MASTERS public exhibition of projects Photo courtesy of Society for Science & the Public/Linda Doane

Alaina Gassler is a ninth grader from West Grove, Pennsylvania, and the recipient of this year’s $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize, the top award at the Broadcom MASTERS.

When her family owned a Jeep Grand Cherokee, Alaina noticed that her mom struggled driving the vehicle because of its large A-pillars. Though these vertical pillars, on each side of the windshield, provide protection in case of a rollover, their size and angle also result in blind spots. Blind spots are commonly thought to only be in the rear of a vehicle, but they can also be areas that drivers can’t see from their usual sitting position at the wheel, either directly with their eyes or with help from side mirrors. “I started to think about how blind spots are a huge problem in all cars,” Alaina said. She decided to design a device to deal with the problem.

Alaina’s work has been featured in numerous media outlets including Popular MechanicsMashableNew York Times and Inside Edition, to name a few. Read more about Alaina and her project below.

What was your experience like at the Broadcom MASTERS?

Broadcom MASTERS was hands down the best week of my life. I have never met such a diverse, yet, close-knit group of people. Everyone had such great personalities. I couldn’t have asked to meet a better group. All the team-building activities taught me so much and brought me so close to such amazing people. I was told that my going to finals week was a prize in and of itself, and I couldn’t agree more.

What risk do you think is always worth taking? 

Go against the odds, because something good will come out of it—whether it’s a success or a lesson. I think this could especially apply to girls in STEM, because there are always certain obstacles that we need to get over. I have learned that it is possible to push through, as long as you have confidence. I felt accomplished when I kept going with my project.

So far, which moment in your life made you feel the most accomplished?

When my name was called at the awards ceremony, and after, when all the other Broadcom MASTERS finalists were rooting for me! I felt so proud that so many people were there for me and supported me. I was proud of myself for achieving a goal that I thought was unreachable. I could never put into words how happy I was in that moment. 

Alaina at one of the challenges during Broadcom MASTERS finals week.

What would you tell your 5-year-old self if you could talk to them today?

Allow your confidence to take over your doubts. Every time I competed in a science fair, I would tell myself that it’s hopeless, even though I always felt a small ‘but what if?’ I would definitely tell myself that I am capable of great things by putting in the work. Even if I had to do something I didn’t like in order to get to my goal, pushing through is always the best idea.

What would you invent if you had all the money in the world? 

I would develop a machine that could identify a malignant area of the body, and then go through a series of code to write a way to get rid of it. The money would be used for cancer research, and development of new medicines. The program would quickly identify treatment without delaying or putting the patient in danger.