Tackling lanternflies and blind spots in cars, Philly-area girls win national science awards

Tom Avril, a writer on scientific research in the Philly region, tells us about two outstanding young women who amazed at the Broadcom MASTERS science competition for middle-school students. Alaina Gassler who was determined to solve the well known annoyance of blind spots in cars for her mother, and Rachelle Bergey who outsmarted the lanternflies destroying her family’s trees with an invention. Both girls showed off their amazing work at the Delaware Valley Science Fair where they won prize money for their education. The full article was originally published November 24, 2019 in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Teen girl holding a web cam attached to a projector.

When her mother had trouble seeing out of the passenger side of the family’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, Alaina Gassler thought: science-fair project! But the Chester County teenager tinkered for hours with a miniature camera and other gadgetry, and the car’s “blind spot” stubbornly remained.

Fifty miles away, another young science whiz could relate. Seeking to thwart the invasive pests called spotted lanternflies, Rachel Bergey had wrapped maple trees in tinfoil on her family’s Montgomery County farm. Yet to her dismay, some of the insects simply crawled beneath the protective covering.

The two girls are not frustrated anymore. They won national acclaim in October at the Broadcom MASTERS science competition for middle-school students, Gassler with the top $25,000 prize and Bergey claiming one of four $10,000 awards.

Now in ninth grade, the two 14-year-olds first met in April when they entered their projects at the Delaware Valley Science Fair. On that occasion, the results were reversed — Bergey earning the gold medal and Gassler the silver.


Gassler and Bergey said one of the best parts of the experience was meeting their science-savvy peers, discussing their successes and, as happens so often in science, their frustrations.

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