LHS student makes the most of her summer

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By Tom Wilmoth

    Hannah Steele isn’t wasting a moment of her summer.


    From competing in an international competition with teen scientists from around the world, to spending three weeks studying at the University of Barcelona, to leading her own classes promoting science to young girls, the rising senior from Liberty High School is making the most of every moment she has this summer.
    And for good measure, she will conclude the summer by participating in a seven-day residential summer academy at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton through the Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholars (VASTS) program.
    “I’d get really bored,” Hannah said if she didn’t have all of these opportunities to take advantage of this summer.

International Science Fair
    Hannah’s summer actually began a little early when she set off for Los Angeles, California to be a part of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair held May 13-19. The competition featured nearly 1,800 young scientists selected from 425 affiliate fairs in 78 countries, regions and territories and she won second place in the Materials Science category for her independent research project on coming up with a fabric that could be used for clothing in space.
    Hannah won $1,500 for her project, The Development of an Efficient Space Radiation Shielding Fabric. 
    This is actually the second   year Hannah has been working on this particular project. In addition to being used in space, her fabric could also be used by those working in nuclear power facilities or even at a dentist’s office. “We’re working on a patent,” Hannah stated of the depth of her work. “I’ve always wanted to go to space.”
    At the competition, finalists were judged by hundreds of science, engineering and industry professionals who have a Ph.D. or equivalent (six years of related professional experience) or are senior graduate students with doctoral-level research in one of the 22 scientific disciplines.
    Hannah used a 3-D printer to help make the prototype of her fabric. In all, she went through some six hours of answering questions from a variety of judges.
    "I was honestly shocked," she said of hearing her name called as the second place winner. "There were so many amazing projects. It's just really honoring."
    Hannah enjoyed meeting so many different people from so many places around the world. "It was such a diverse collection of people," she said. "It was really inspiring. It was an amazing experience."
    In addition to attending the competition, Hannah also had time to visit a few potential colleges for next year, including the University of Southern California, UCLA and Cal-Tech.

    After returning from travel out west, Hannah held the first of two sessions of GO STEM or Girls Only STEM camp, with its goal to make young girls excited about science.
    "I want to show young girls they can be scientists, they can be engineers," Hannah said of her camps.
    This year, the third year she has held the camp, Hannah had 41 girls between the two weeks. The third through eighth grade girls learned to use tools, learned about famous women scientists and performed a variety of experiments and projects.
    In "What's Inside" they were able to take apart various household electronic items.
    Hannah plans the various projects throughout the year. The camp runs from 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
    "They get to learn a lot about teamwork," Hannah said.
    The camps have more than tripled in size since her first year; this year there was a waiting list.
    After conducting the first camp, Hannah and her family took a trip to the Canadian Rockies, spending time hiking and camping together. She then came back, held her second camp and this past Saturday took off for Barcelona.

Studying in Barcelona; then off to Langley
    For the next three weeks, Hannah will be in Barcelona through Columbia University's Global Immersion Program for high school students. She received a full scholarship for the program and will be studying about "Barcelona in Historical Contest," "Barcelona—The Community: Catalonia, Spain, and the European Union," "The City: 20th-Century Architecture, Urban Development, Art, and Design in Barcelona" and participating in a Spanish language workshop.
    "I hope to have a really good time," Hannah said just before leaving.
    When she returns she will be part of the VASTS Summer Academy.
    Students selected to participate in the program are immersed in NASA-related research through interaction with scientists, engineers and technologists. The program is a partnership between the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, NASA Langley Research Center and The Commonwealth of Virginia and Industry.
    She will be part of a team exploring the trip of a mission from earth to Mars.
    "I want to work in the space industry," Hannah said of her future goals. "But who knows what I will end up doing."
    As for her parents, Kelly and Jeff Steele, they couldn't be more proud of Hannah. They are both teachers.
    "It makes me very proud as a mom," Kelly Steele stated.
    She said the fact that her daughter won second place at the Science Fair was a bonus. "You go for the experience," she said. "For her to actually win something was amazing."
    Having seen her daughter and the many other young scientists who took part she came to a conclusion: "You feel like the world is in good hands when you go to something like that."