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Meet Sarah Gao: Camp Invention Alum and STEM Challenge Champion

This year, the National STEM Challenge brought remarkable young minds together as they presented their achievements in STEM. Through groundbreaking ideas and friendly competition, the challenge boasts a celebration of innovative, student-driven solutions to global challenges in the areas of Environmental Stewardship, Future Foods, Health & Medicine, Powering the Planet, Tech for Good and Space Innovation. Among the young champions selected for 2024 was Sarah Gao, aspiring engineer and Camp Invention® alumna.

Camp Invention is a one-of-a-kind nationwide STEM camp designed for curious kids like Sarah. Now a 2024 STEM Challenge Champion, Sarah recently sat down with the National Inventors Hall of Fame® to discuss her challenge project, as well as Camp Invention’s impact on her innovative journey.


Discovering STEM Through Hands-On Creating at Camp Invention

Sarah, now a junior in high school in California, first attended Camp Invention in 2014. “What I remember most from Camp Invention was how hands-on the experience was, which was something new compared to what I was doing in elementary school at the time,” she shared. “I really got into meeting new kids and inventing new things – I remember inventing these bracelets with scented beads, like perfume.”

While also engaged in photography and filmmaking, Sarah has been interested in STEM for a long while, going back to her Camp Invention days. While helping to foster her love of STEM, she also credits camp with sparking both her curiosity and passions that have stayed with her. “Camp Invention definitely helped me develop my creativity. When you’re given the opportunity to invent anything that you can think of, that really pushes you and motivates you to be as creative as you can and to do something you’re really passionate about. For me, I’m really passionate about environmental science now.”


Taking on the STEM Challenge

To pursue the enthusiasm she’s developed for conservation over the years, Sarah’s submission to the National STEM Challenge involves using seeds for water purification – a more accessible and affordable alternative to other water treatment systems’ complex technology and infrastructure. “Living in San Diego, we are a drought region that is susceptible to desertification,” she shared. “Seeing these droughts, I wanted to address the issue of water quality by exploring non-toxic methods and purification that is more environmentally friendly.”

Since beginning work on her project in the fall of 2023, Sarah has been “constantly developing” this innovation. “The idea was to find seeds that can be used to clean water through flocculation and coagulation. I tested many different kinds of seeds, like papaya seeds, flax seeds and radish seeds. I compared them against moringa oleifera seeds, which are what others in this field are studying,” she said. “I sought to find other seeds that can also be used to clean water and was able to find that radish seeds worked really, really well. I would like to do more research into this, but I think I have a strong starting point.”

Among nearly 300 finalists, Sarah was selected as a STEM Champion and given the opportunity to showcase her project to some of our nation’s most influential leaders at the 2024 National STEM Festival in Washington, D.C., presented by EXPLR.


Extending Advice to Young Innovators

As Sarah looks to her future, she eagerly anticipates attending college and studying environmental science, computer science or even public policy. “After that, I hope to continue environmental science research and potentially found my own company. I’d like to invent solutions, applying for patents to protect them,” she expressed.

While reflecting on her time at Camp Invention once more, she credited this experience as being pivotal in igniting and fostering her love of STEM. “I would give a great recommendation for Camp Invention. It really helped me spark and develop my interest in STEM, especially at an early age. It motivated and inspired me to be creative and do what I love.”

Sarah’s advice to aspiring kid inventors is simple and inspiring: “You can set your own path, you don’t have to just follow the group. You can do anything you put your mind to.”


Explore Camp Invention for Your Child

To learn more about the inspiring influence of Camp Invention, visit our website.

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