Fourteen-year-old Thomas Aldous snagged the first-place Samueli Foundation Prize — and the $25,000 that goes with it — at the 2022 Broadcom MASTERS, a national science and engineering competition for middle school students hosted by the Society for Science. MASTERS stands for “math, applied science, technology and engineering for rising stars.”
The Squirrel Hill resident won over the judges by crafting a robotic hand that could be used to assist in times of disaster. It was just his first time entering the competition, he told Technical.ly.
“I created this project because there are many situations that are very dangerous for humans in the real world,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the hand was inspired in part by learning about the rescue robots that were used to clean up the damage that resulted from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Fukushima, Japan. The robotic hand is remote controlled and can connect the fingers on a glove to link to spools with electronic devices.
By his own recollection, the teen has always enjoyed building things, though his previous projects were usually completed over a weekend. The robotic hand was a six-month endeavor created through trial and error, a few roadblocks, and a lot of research.
“I had a fair bit of background to start out, and then I just sort of researched specific issues that I had along the way,” Thomas said. “I’d be Googling ‘search and rescue robots,’ or, you know, ‘robotic hands’ or ‘3D printing robotic hands,’ that sort of thing.” During the building, he’d also visit the online Arduino hardware and software forum to seek advice.
Although the competition is over, with the winners chosen and the prizes given to their respective recipients, this won’t be the end of Thomas’ STEM journey.
“I’ve always been really interested in science and engineering,” Thomas said. “For me, I like building things and I think that it would be really cool to continue that. And so I think going into engineering or maybe physics or research would just be really interesting.”Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
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