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UPDATE: Loudoun Valley students win national STEM competition

The Loudoun Valley High School STEM club stands proudly with one of their emergency alert modules on the W&OD Trail across the street from the school in Purcellville. Times-Mirror/Hannah Dellinger
UPDATE April 12:
The Loudoun Valley STEM club was named one of the top prize winners in the Samsung Solve For Tomorrow contest this month.

Altogether, the club won $120,000 in technology for their school. The group's work was selected out of over 4,100 contestants from all over the country.

Loudoun Valley High School’s first STEM club recently created an inexpensive, solar-powered emergency alert system that is now one of 15 national finalists in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest.

Given the large number of assaults and pedestrian and bicyclist accidents on the region's W&OD trail, the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) students wanted to create an inexpensive emergency alert system that could work without cellular service or a hardwired power supply. Their project, which uses radio frequencies, has already won the school $40,000 in Samsung technology, and if the students are selected in the contest’s top five, they could win $125,000 worth of computers, tablets and more.

Many Loudoun Valley students walk on the W&OD trail every day to get to and from school, so the STEM students wanted to make the path a safer place.

“We felt this project could help the biggest community need out of the other projects we talked about doing,” Malcolm Miller, a senior at the school, said during a morning STEM club meeting. “It also had software and hardware components to it and other projects we talked about had one or the other.”

José Rodriguez, a Valley math and computer science teacher, said the students’ research found college campuses already have emergency alert systems.

“They’re all hard wired into power and they also use either a hard-wired phone or cellular,” said Rodriguez. “We knew there was no where to plug in on the trail. Our goal is for this system not just to be for the W&OD, but also on the Appalachian Trail, where there is certainly no cellular service.”

In order to avoid the exorbitant expense of installing hard-wired power and phones, the students used rechargeable solar battery packs for power, which can recharge the system units faster than power is consumed.

They also used transmitter-receiver panels that use radio frequencies, so they didn’t have to rely on cellular service.

The students created three stand-alone nodes with a button to call for police and a button to call for emergency rescue services. When either button is pushed, the signal goes to the other nodes along the trail and to a master node, which would stay at a police station.

The master node has an LCD (liquid crystal display) screen that shows the police which node the call came from and whether police or rescue are needed. The police would push a button on the master node, sending a signal back down the trail to the node that sent the original signal to let the person in danger know that help is on the way.

The total material cost of each node is about $155 and the master node box is about $55.

When ready for installation, the nodes will stand on wooden poles. Right now the nodes are on PVC (polyvinyl chloride) piping, so the students can bring the project to Samsung headquarters in New York City for the contest’s final round on March 15.

Two students will travel with the STEM club teacher sponsors to New York to make a three-minute pitch to a judging panel, followed by a seven-minute question and answer session.

The project has already been selected as the number one submission from Virginia, which earned the school a laptop and a camera to make a video pitch (see above) for the contest. When the team became one of 15 national finalists, they got another $20,000 worth in technology.

Now the students are in the running to become one of three national winners; an ambassador award, which Samsung employees vote for; or a community award, which any one can vote for by using both of the hash tags #SamsungSolveLVHS and #SamsungSolve on Twitter or Instagram before April 1.

The five national winners will be honored at an awards ceremony in D.C. in April. Congressional representatives will be at the ceremony to meet and congratulate the students.

If the Valley students win any of the final awards they will get a total of $125,000 worth of computers, tablets, printers and other equipment.

“Our hope is that with what we get, we’re going to start a STEM lab here at Valley,” said Rodriguez. “Not only will our STEM club be able to use the technology, we want to encourage all students to pursue their own interest. We want them to have our resources available to do that with.”

The STEM club is focused on the competition for now, but they plan on working with the local government and organizations to implement the security system on the W&OD trail and other trails.

“We want to coordinate with the Town and Purcellville police to get a prototype installed here in Purcellville to see how that goes,” said Rodriguez. “The goal is to prove our concept and get people asking why there aren’t more installed on the rest of the trail.”


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