My high school science project looked at how row covers could help plants grow in cold weather. Not a bad idea, but not nearly as cool as high school student Eesha Khare's science project, the creation of a supercapacitor that could potentially be used to fully charge a cell phone within 20 to 30 seconds.
Khare, an 18-year-old from California, won the Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award and $50,000 for her participation in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair run by the Society for Science & the Public. Think of it as the world's largest science fair. Khare took home one of the top prizes for "a tiny device that fits inside cell phone batteries, allowing them to fully charge within 20-30 seconds."
The official title of Khare's project is "Design and Synthesis of Hydrogenated TiO2-Polyaniline Nanorods for Flexible High-Performance Supercapacitors." Her objective reads (PDF):
With the rapid growth of portable electronics, it has become necessary to develop efficient energy-storage technology to match this development. While batteries are currently used for energy-storage, they suffer from long charging times and short cycle life. Electrochemical supercapacitors have attracted attention as energy-storage devices because they bridge the gap between current alternatives of conventional capacitors and batteries, offering higher energy density than conventional capacitors and higher power density than batteries. Despite these advantages, supercapacitor energy density is much lower than batteries and increasing energy density remains a key challenge in supercapacitor research. The goal of this work was to design and synthesize a supercapacitor with increased energy density while maintaining power density and long cycle life.
Khare's supercapacitor can last for 10,000 charge and recharge cycles. She has used it to power an LED as a proof of concept, but envisions its future use in phones, portable electronic devices, and even car batteries.
Curious about how she did it? Put your science hat on. "To improve supercapacitor energy density, I designed, synthesized, and characterized a novel core-shell nanorod electrode with hydrogenated TiO2 (H-TiO2) core and polyaniline shell," she writes. Essentially, that translates to a much improved supercapacitor.
The 1,600 participants were whittled down to 3 top winners. Besides Khare, Romanian student Ionut Budisteanu came in first by using artificial intelligence to create a model for a low-cost, self-driving car. Henry Lin, a 17-year-old from Louisiana, received the same award as Khare for his project that simulated thousands of clusters of galaxies.
Khare's work is of particular interest to the geek world. The idea of a super-fast smartphone charge is enough to make most phone owners jump for joy. Let's hope this tech gets on the fast track to commercialization.