Local student creates device to offset air conditioning waste
The 3M Young Scientist Challenge asks students in fifth to eighth grade to identify an everyday problem in their community or the world and submit a short video communicating the science behind their solution.
Local middle school student Vera van der Linden was named the State Merit Winner for Nevada in this year’s challenge after proposing an idea to harness the wasted wind energy from air-conditioning units and put it to use.
In her video, van der Linden explains that air conditioners use about 6% of all electricity produced in the United States and release more than 117 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year as a result. Scientists are working on solutions, like renewable-electricity-powered A/C units that capture carbon dioxide and convert it into renewable hydrocarbon fuel.
In the meantime, van der Linden created a solution to put A/C unit waste to work. She built a small wind turbine electrical generator that can capture the mechanical energy of wind that A/Cs blow out while operating.
“It’s a little fan that creates energy, and that is then converted from AC to DC and then minimized to five volts to power things,” van der Linden said. “It works by capturing the wasted wind energy that air conditioners discard and converts it into electricity that can be used to charge everyday home devices.”
The 3M corporation has been putting on this competition for middle school students for 14 years. Its goal is to get kids to think creatively and apply the power of STEM to discovering real-world solutions.
Winners of the competition have gone on to give TED Talks, file patents, start nonprofits, make the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and exhibit at the White House Science Fair.
“The 3M Young Scientist Challenge demonstrates the transformative power of young minds to address global challenges by combining their unique and diverse perspectives on innovation, creativity, and a passion for a better world,” said Denise Rutherford, senior vice president and chief corporate affairs officer at 3M. “This year’s state merit winners prove the efficacy of STEM thinking. We are proud of this year’s competitors and remain committed to building greater STEM-equity that unlocks the power of people, ideas, and science and imagines what’s possible.”
Winners of the competition receive a technology prize pack. van der Linden is not sure of everything that’s included in this but does know it will contain an Amazon Fire tablet.
van der Linden has also won the Mineral Monday video competition organized by the W.M. Keck Earth and Mineral Engineering Museum at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her video was later nominated for the 2020 Sci-On! The Biggest Little Science + Fiction Festival in the World and received the Best Nevada Film Award.
In the fall, van der Linden will be entering the eighth grade at Sage Ridge School. She said she believes she will pursue further education and a career in materials engineering after completing high school.
“I’ve loved engineering since I was a little kid, and I also did UNR engineering camp that really sparked my interest in what I could do, what I could build and how I would do it,” van der Linden said.
She would like to one day create new materials for airplanes and rockets.