in STEAM

Sara Makboul: Why You Need to Know Her Name

In the early morning hour of 5 o’clock, while most teenagers are still asleep, 15-year-old Sara Makboul is exploring ways to change our world.

From a young age, Sara started showing an interest in science and creating things. She was always the kind of girl who preferred tinkering with circuit boards to playing house, but it wasn’t until her fifth-grade science fair that she realized her passion for creating and problem-solving.

“It’s something all fifth-graders had to do at the time, and at first I wasn’t that excited about it, but it ended up going really well. I didn’t want to do something basic, so I put it in my own hands and created everything by myself and had a really fun time doing it.”

After researching, experimenting, and exploring the cause of osmosis, Sara was hooked. She has gone on to receive some prestigious awards including her recent induction into the National Museum of Education. She was also a finalist in the 2016 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Since that fateful science fair, Sara has created two major inventions that are bound to change the world.

The first invention is something she calls CoolBaby (patent-pending). When Sara read about a growing number of infants getting left in hot cars, she knew she needed to create something to prevent the fatal statistics from rising.

Father putting a baby in her car seat

CoolBaby gets inserted into a child’s car seat and acts as an aid should the child be accidentally left in the car. The cushion has heat and weight sensors to determine whether a baby is in the car seat and if the car has reached a dangerous temperature. When the cushion senses both circumstances, a fan (built into the cushion) starts cooling the baby while an alert is sent to the parent’s keychain fob.

Sara explains her recent developments for CoolBaby: “Right now, I am focusing on the actual technology within it. For example, for it to do all of these different actions, I have to create my own microcontroller system. That is one of the most unique things about it: my microcontroller interface using Bluetooth®.”

An app for an alert system is also currently in development, to assist the keychain fob should the parent be too far away for Bluetooth to reach.

Upon moving to Georgia last year, Sara realized that it rained a lot more in her new town than it did in her birthplace in Kansas. According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, “Thousands of stream miles throughout Georgia are impacted by stormwater runoff, which can carry harmful pollutants into our waterways. In fact, the leading threat to our water quality is from stormwater pollution.”

The Flint River after rain

So, being the go-getter and problem-solver that she is, Sara began researching ways to prevent stormwater pollution before it even happens. “I realized many people think that once water goes through drainage systems after it rains that it’ll be cleaned. However, that costs millions upon millions of dollars. So, the water goes into nearby waterways without even being cleaned and that can kill a lot of fish and water life.”

Can this even be done? Is there a way to prevent stormwater pollution? Well, nothing seems impossible for Sara, who may have found a solution.

Through her research and data collecting, she realized that the ground or soil can only soak up about 50% of rainwater. The rest of the water gets contaminated with fertilizers and other dirt and then gets percolated into the ground.

The solution? Sara’s invention of Nanocellulose Beads.

These beads are almost unseen at just one millimeter in diameter and serve as a soil addition to add to surfaces like concrete and lawns. Every time it rains, the beads soak up the rainwater.

Sara explains the science behind it: “They are made up of nanocellulose which is extremely absorbent and sodium polyacrylate which makes the beads grow after they absorb water. You can barely see them on your lawn and they’ll last about 8 years, since every time they soak up the water they will decrease in volume again and the process keeps on going.”

She says that her actual idea to use nanocellulose was a big breakthrough. When collecting her data about the absorption of stormwater in different areas, Sara found that very little water was being soaked up in the urban centers. One explanation was the general lack of plants and trees, which have absorbent qualities thanks to cellulose. So, Sara set out to develop her cellulose-based beads.

Sara says she plans to patent Nanocellulose Beads along with her CoolBaby invention in the very near future.

Sara at work.

As her incredibly bright future lies ahead, Sara hopes to attend an Ivy League school. Humble much? We’re pretty sure those schools will be chasing after her very soon. She says she isn’t sure what she wants to major in quite yet.

“I have a lot of interests. For a long time, I have been interested in Economics and have researched a lot on U.S. debt. When I grow up, I might go into a field of Nuclear Physics but probably along those lines of something scientific or entrepreneurship, as I continue to create more and solve different global issues.”

Solve MORE global issues? This girl is on fire and will not stop! Her next feat? Solving the problem of lead poisoning. “Right now, I’m trying to create a liquid solution that can be applied to the interior walls of a pipe to act as a barrier, not allowing any lead to reach and contaminate a community’s’ water. The liquid will crystallize as it comes in contact with the lead pipe and become a solid that doesn’t harm or leach into the water.”

Insert open mouth emoji here.

The gender gap in the STEM community is still a problem with women vastly underrepresented. However, Sara recommends the following things that we can do to help get our young girls interested in STEM education:

  • Join clubs! There are plenty of great opportunities out there for girls nowadays. Go towards those opportunities.
  • Join competitions. Science Fair, anyone?
  • Toys and Technology. Sara started playing with Orbeez when she was little and it inspired her to create the Nanocellulose Beads.
  • Enroll girls in schools and programs that will challenge them.
  • Take a hands-on approach to learning.

It’s safe to say that Sara Makboul is a woman of action. She sees problems in our society and she genuinely wants to fix them through science and technology. She is not only intelligent, talented, and passionate, but a great role model who shows how hard work and perseverance can change the world. We can’t wait to see what she does next!

“You can’t change the world, until you start working to change the world.” – Sara Makboul

Featured image: Sara presents during the 2016 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge