15-year-old inventor Hannah Herbst developed a low-cost method of producing energy from ocean currents – and her idea won top prize at the 2015 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge: $25,000 cash. The prototype she built for the competition, a probe that converts the natural movements of the ocean into useable electricity, costs just $12 to make. The ultra-low cost was all part of Herbst’s goal to develop a solution for developing countries, where electricity is sparse and unreliable.

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The Florida teen was inspired to develop a low-cost energy capture method by communities which lack reliable access to electricity, such as in Ethiopia where she has a nine-year-old pen pal. Herbst’s friend wrote to her about conditions in her hometown, and the ninth grader set about analyzing the problem with a scientific approach.

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What she came up with is a floating probe with a 3D-printed propeller, a small pulley, and a hydroelectric generator. The device converts the ocean’s movement into usable energy. It isn’t enough to fire up a power grid, but the electricity generated can be used to run equipment, like a desalinization machine which converts ocean water into drinking water.

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Herbst’s invention was pitted against entries from nine other students. Over the past three months, the students have been working directly with a 3M scientist to develop their inventions for the competition. Jeffrey Emslander was paired with Herbst; he’s a 3M corporate scientist whose research and patents have helped 3M reduce emissions to the environment and use less energy in the making of products.

+ Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge

Via GOOD

Images via Discovery Education, 3M