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CMHS senior competes in NASA competition

LOCK HAVEN — When a summer engineering program fell through due to COVID-19, Central Mountain High School senior Gianna Renzo and fellow participants decided to put their skills into another project.

“Our team got to know each other online while we were applying to an engineering summer program at MIT. When things fell through due to COVID, I suggested that we start a team to compete in the 2020 NASA TI (Texas Instrument) Codes Contest,” Renzo said.

Renzo gathered a team of fellow high school seniors from four different states with various skill sets and perspectives for the competition.

The goal of the 2020 NASA TI Codes Contest is to improve a process or create an innovative product for the International Space Station.

“I was initially a little nervous about how a group of complete strangers would be able to create a robot for the International Space Station. Our team’s different backgrounds actually turned out to be one of our most significant advantages going into this project because it allowed us to create a truly unique and innovative solution to revolutionize cleaning on the ISS,” she said.

Renzo and her team — Manu Gupta of New York City, Jonathan Ngoy and Alayna Nguyan of Illinois, Manvi Sinyhal of New Jersey — brainstormed via Zoom what their project would be named and they came up with the Germaphobe.

“The Germaphobe was inspired by the Astrobee and SPHERE robots that are already on the space station,” Renzo said. “These robotic systems help astronauts with routine tasks such as taking inventory and locating equipment.”

The team researched how astronauts live on the International Space Station and what problems they may encounter. That’s when they learned what bacteria in space undergoes compared to on Earth.

“We also learned that astronauts spend up to four hours each Saturday morning cleaning, when their time could be better spent focusing on research, missions and enjoying the view from the Cupola,” Renzo said.

All of the groups hardwork and hours spent creating a prototype of the design this summer paid off recently.

The Germaphobe is a free-flying sanitation robot that uses UV lights to keep the International Space Station clean, allowing astronauts to spend their time on research and essential operations instead of cleaning the ISS!

The Germaphobe is currently in the fifth and final round of the NASA TI competition.

“Our team was very excited that we would be able to continue working together. This project has been a four-month process, and we have gotten to know each other well,” she said.

Renzo said they also hope winning could help improve access to STEM education in each of their communities.

“If we win the grand prize, we will donate the TI Rovers and TI Innovator Hubs to our schools to learn hands-on STEM learning and create a video series about robotics and TI technology,” she said.

For Renzo, passing along her love of STEM to another generation of kids would be wonderful.

“I have been interested in STEM since middle school when I competed as a member in the Technology Student Association at Lock Haven Catholic School,” she said. “This early experience steered me towards science and math subjects in high school and inspired me to continue exploring my passion in STEM Club at Central Mountain.”

Renzo said working on the Germaphobe has taught her valuable lessons she’ll take with her through her life.

“To be successful in this project I had to have the courage to dive headfirst into new challenges,” she said. “Our team didn’t really know anything about space robotics when we started working on the Germaphobe. All of our team members had to get comfortable with learning new things and taking on new challenges.”

A public vote will decide whether or not the Germaphobe takes home the winning title. Voting began on Sept. 1 and will close on Sept. 14. Anyone who’d like to vote for the Germaphobe can visit https://gleam.io/g/GmXli/12b141

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