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In the past few months, Eleanor Sigrest led a booth for kids at the recent World Science Festival and met an astronaut. She has been a featured speaker at several STEM conferences and was invited to NASA Goddard and Aerojet.
Eleanor, who won the top award at Broadcom MASTERS 2016, is maybe the busiest middle school student!
Read our interview with Eleanor below to learn more about what she plans to do next.
ON MEETING AN ASTRONAUT AT THE WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL: I got to meet with Yvonne Cagle and talk over brunch. That was a nice surprise. It made the whole day! She is the surgeon who is going to be sent on the Mars mission — which is my dream.
The World Science Festival was really fun. It was hectic and crazy. I showed kids how to build a rocket. At first they weren’t sure what to do. Others got into it right away. What was really cool was to probe the ones who weren’t sure at first, and get them to send their rocket higher and farther, instead of just two inches off the ground, they made them hit the ceiling.
I’d love to be the first person on Mars.
HER SCHEDULE SINCE BROADCOM MASTERS 2016: I’ve been up to a whole lot. I participated in my regional science fair and received second place in my category. At the Virginia Junior Academy of Science, I wasn’t expecting to win anything big. And they call you up on stage in groups. When they called up the engineering category, and my name didn’t get called until the end, I was excited. I won best of physical sciences and best of symposia. And I get to go to Austin, Texas and participate in the American Academy of Science.
I got invited to visit NASA Goddard and Aerojet space facilities, where I talked to other engineers. The nozzles I use in my project are really small. I thought they use bigger ones on the rockets, but when I went to Goddard, I saw they use nozzles the size of your fingernail. Some where smaller than mine. That was really neat.
I also got to speak at [a middle school for] Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. Middle school students participated in sessions led by professional hackers and biomedical engineers, with a wide range of categories represented. This is the second year in a row now that I've participated, and I was very honored to be a keynote speaker. I also spoke at the Girls Plus Math Equals Success (SUCCESS Conference).
I also donated my second premade quilt to the hospital, for premature babies.
HER CURRENT STEM PROJECTS: Last year, I was researching parts of the nozzle for rockets. I was working on the divergent section, which is what expands the gas and accelerates further. This year, I'm working with different nozzles.
I found some interesting information because the conversion section affected the thrust in ways I never predicted to happen. Next year, I’d love to map the flow of the gas as it goes through the nozzle. And maybe make my nozzles bigger so I can put sensors in them and get more accurate readings.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SCIENCE FAIRS: I think they’re important because some kids don’t realize how fun science is until they’re forced into doing it. A bunch of kids in my school, if they were never told you need to do a science fair project for a grade, they never would have tried it and fallen in love with it.
That constant sharing of knowledge, that networking, that’s why science fairs are important.
Science fairs are more than just encouraging people in STEM. That constant sharing of knowledge, that networking, that’s why science fairs are important.
WHY SHE GIVES BACK THROUGH HER STEM PASSION: I’ve always had someone there to encourage me or say you’re doing a good job. It’s been such a huge part of my life having different people influence me, especially my family. Now I can go to other girls and tell them, “You can do this, it’s fun, it's exciting, you’re going to like it. There’s tons of things you can do. It’s not just math, science, engineering, and you can do any of it!"
HOW SHE BECAME INTERESTED IN STEM: We come from a maker family. My older sister is a graphic designer. She’s starting her own STEAM conference, which adds the art into STEM. Another sister is at MIT studying rocket science. And my two brothers are also into science. They’re always supporting me. If I was a garbage truck driver, I could be the best garbage truck driver there ever was.
There are so many different things unexplored and undefined. There’s always something new you can do. Or you can just expand upon something. It doesn’t just have to be new. And that’s what my passion is.
HER STEM GOALS: I want to attend MIT and be in their aero-astro program. I want to become a computer programmer because I really love coding and hacking. I’m trying to get my certified ethical hacking license over the summer. I think it would be cool if I made a career out of computers.
In the long goal, I’d love to be the first person on Mars. That would be really neat. Especially being the astronaut specialist in computers and engineering. It gets me excited just talking about it!
HER ADVICE TO YOUNG PEOPLE INTERESTED IN STEM: I’d like to tell them to keep going. Sometimes it can be really discouraging when people say "you’re a geek, you’re a nerd." But I like to think about that as you’re passionate or committed to something.
I like to think about [being called a geek or nerd] as you’re passionate or committed to something.
Also, communication is key. It's important to get your ideas out there, take a stand, and really do what you love. If you don’t do what you love, you’re going to be miserable and bored out of your mind.
You can find science in other people and in crazy and mysterious ways, almost anywhere. I think that’s what has been most amazing for me. You can relate crazy things back to science. Even the arts, which some people think are not related, are very interrelated.
If you don’t do what you love, you’re going to be miserable and bored out of your mind.
If you have a free moment in school, ask a teacher if you can pull out your phone and research a topic you’re interested in. Or take a walk through the woods and notice the surroundings around you, take them in, and analyze them.
Matt Fichtenbaum (Intel ISEF 1962, Westinghouse STS 1962) has eclectic interests, ranging from art to science.
Science can be a good stepping stone into the political arena. Through science fairs, participants can gain important communication and public speaking skills.
From teaching young women to code to providing empowering dolls for kids, four Society for Science & the Public alumni — Pooja Chandrashekar, Anvita Gupta, Kavya Kopparapu,