The Worlds Next Techno-eco-warrior - Genevieve Cartmell
How many young adults can tell you at age 12 what they want to be in life? Very few. Genevieve Cartmell can. She wants to be a scientist, with an interest in technology for environmental conservation. Already she has designed and created a piece of scientific equipment that is turning heads, winning awards, and will soon be field-tested.
Genevieve’s prototype creation resulted in her being named the Joint Winner of the Skills Bright Sparks Junior Hardware Engineering Award for 2018. And she picked up a special prize in the field of conservation for health and well-being.
Her invention is the cleverly named H20 EQB8TA. It’s an E. coli incubator that promises to transform the troublesome monitoring of polluted water ways. Scientists and Citizen Scientists can’t wait to get their hands on it.
For Genevieve’s parents, there were early signals as to the direction of her mind. She loved Lego. She was always modelling and designing. She liked to try anything new, no matter how difficult. And, importantly, she liked to try to work things out for herself.
Genevieve’s father, Nigel, not only encouraged her to construct things, he got her to break things down as well. “I once got her to take a washing machine apart. Girls in particular need to take stuff apart to learn how things work.”
Aged nine, there came a seminal moment. Dr Amanda Valois from NIWA came to talk to Genevieve’s technology class, AKL Mini Makers, run by her dad. “Amanda showed us how to test water in the local stream with her E. coli incubator and then set us a challenge to create a better one. The one she was using was not very portable, or reliable".
Genevieve started making prototypes. Using a 3D printer, she designed and printed an outer shell. She discovered if she used white material in the printing it created light pollution and E. coli does not like light. By putting all the electronics at the bottom, that created a problem with size. “So, I decided to put all the brains on the top and that worked.”
Genevieve’s incubator is less expensive because all the materials are open source. “But I experimented with quite a lot of equipment. Transistors can get really hot. I went through a few of those!” Nigel says to overcome that problem she installed a relay to control heating levels. “She wired it up herself.” Genevieve's ability with electronics is at a level where she researches a component on the internet, finds the correct wiring diagram and source code, and adapts the code for her own needs to install on an Arduino microprocessor. We bought a new 12-digit keypad that didn't have instructions. After a bit of tinkering she got it working, which had me wondering could she MacGyver an old telephone keypad if Jaycar was closed?
She designed and drew the incubator using Fusion 360 modelling software which she learned off YouTube. “She coded and debugged the software, designed the electronics and soldered the circuits.” Nigel said his role was mainly watching over the 3D printer late at night when Genevieve was tucked up in bed. “The things parents do!”
Finally, an application was made to Bright Sparks and was accepted. Genevieve was on to her 3rd prototype by now. Then she heard she was a finalist. How exciting the night of the awards was she says. “Winning two awards, I was over the moon!”
Leading up to the Awards, Genevieve was introduced to Wai Care and now has a Council grant for $2000 to build incubators. It’s from Regional Environment and Natural Heritage (REHN) for the production of prototypes for field testing with a citizen science group in Auckland called Friends of Oakley Creek.
“The problem for Citizen Scientists is that they are testing water with cheap incubators that aren’t good quality and aren’t very portable,” Genevieve says. Also, power supply has been a problem. Genevieve is updating her third portable prototype to run on battery power. “It saves hours of incubating time. You can be off grid and samples can be taken anywhere.”
“It’s a great thing to be involved in,” says Nigel. “Genevieve’s doing all the hard sweat. With design, you start off with a gut feeling, and then you carry on developing it with rational thought.”
That is exactly what Genevieve has been doing. It’s been trial and error. With a little help from her dad, she is trying to weave technology and citizen science into a culture that’s big on sports and the outdoors, mixing the practical with the theoretical.
What’s next? She is thinking about inventing a data-logger. “To drop into a stream to record when the temperature gets really bad.”
It looks like New Zealand has discovered its next techno-eco-warrior! Genevieve is creating a website to record her journey https://envirovoice.org/about/