Mihir Garimella won a first place award in Engineering at the 2013 Broadcom MASTERS, which allowed him to attend a summer robotics program, and is now a Google Science Fair finalist. Below he talks about his experiences during and since the competition.
What was your experience being a Broadcom MASTERS finalist like? Most memorable moments?
Broadcom MASTERS was an incredible experience. The finalist week was filled with science challenges, dealing with topics from rocket science to electrical engineering to roller coaster design. We also had a chance to explore Washington, DC—we visited monuments and museums, watched a funny play in the Kennedy Center, and took a tour of Mount Vernon. I also enjoyed being able to exhibit my project to the public—being able to show your project to people who are genuinely as excited about it as you is an amazing opportunity. Above all, though, I think the fact that all of the other finalists were so brilliant and passionate about science was what made the experience so great.
My most memorable moment would have to be visiting the White House. We met Dr. John Holdren, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, who told us about what his office was doing to promote STEM education, and had the chance to individually discuss our projects with his staff. We also had the incredible honor of meeting President Obama, who shook our hands and gave us a tour of the Oval Office. I've always loved engineering, so I was especially excited to see the famous patents and models that decorated the Oval Office.
Can you provide a short description of your Broadcom MASTERS project and how you initially became interested in this topic?
I came up with a way to add the sense of smell to the human-computer interaction experience to make it richer and more interactive. I created a scent synthesis device that uses five modified microchip-based air fresheners to disperse scents on demand. I also wrote a library to create and send instructions to those air fresheners, and created a movie editor to allow scents to be inserted at various points, each with a specific duration and strength, within a movie clip. For example, during a commercial for Apple Jacks cereal, my device dispersed cinnamon and apple smells.
I became interested in this topic while doing a FaceTime call with my grandparents, who live in India. While I loved being able to see them and the garden in front of their house, I missed the smells that made India unique, and I quickly became intrigued by the idea of digitally recreating smells.
How has participating in Broadcom MASTERS affected you?
Participating in Broadcom MASTERS showed me that science can be extremely rewarding. Through Broadcom MASTERS, I had the chance to meet people who I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to—the other finalists, who are brilliant peers and great friends, the judges and other distinguished guests with whom we interacted over the course of the event, and even the President of the United States! Broadcom MASTERS also showed me that science can be incredibly fun, and motivated me to pursue robotics research further.
You were recently named a finalist in the Google Science Fair. Can you tell us about that and what else you have been up to in the past year?
The past year has definitely been very exciting! For my latest project, I created a lightweight method of evading moving threats for flying robots by mimicking how fruit flies respond when you try to swat them. My ultimate goal was to make flight for things like search and rescue missions truly autonomous and scalable.
The Google Science Fair is an online competition open to students around the world. I was honored to be selected as one of the fifteen global finalists, and I’m planning to travel to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View this weekend for the finalist competition. Like in Broadcom MASTERS, the judges are incredibly distinguished and the other projects look amazing—I can’t wait!
I also created an app called Classroom, which aims to replace the student planners traditionally used in schools. It’s an extension of iDMS, an app that I created for my middle school last year. I won the Congressional App Challenge for Pennsylvania’s Twelfth District, and I hope to see my app used in schools around the world.
My summer was busy as well—I used the scholarship from my Broadcom MASTERS award to attend a three week long robotics program at the University of Pennsylvania. I spent the rest of my summer at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, working with flying robots similar to those I used for my project.
Do you have any advice for other young students interested in science?
My biggest piece of advice for other young scientists is to work on a project that you love. Science is hard work and things often won’t go as well as you hope—for my most recent project, I spent nearly four months designing and building prototype after prototype of a hardware component before I had something that worked—and if you pick something that you love, you’ll be motivated to stick with it. You’ll also be better able to explain to explain your project to others if you’re truly excited about what you’re researching. In general, I think that science fairs are great opportunities for young scientists to present and gain recognition for their research, and I would encourage others to participate.