8th grade essay winner puts her finger on safety with biometrics

This year’s essay contest was one for the books. We received 294 submissions across 15 network schools, with participation from kindergarten to 12th grade. We learned about problems like climate change and food deserts, as well as learning to read and tie our shoes. Each of these problems has different consequences, but the overall message rang out loud and clear – Ohio students are ready to change the world.

For our middle school winner, it all started as a project about White House security in her coding class. Mollie and her team were using a fingerprint scanner to learn about biometrics, but they hit a speedbump early on – their main piece of equipment was just plain unreliable.

Read the winning middle school essay by Mollie Stracensky at St. Ambrose

“We were getting frustrated after we got the sensor to work. We were thinking – why doesn’t it keep working? And so, we needed to solve that. And we figured, why don’t we just incorporate that as part of our project, instead of just on the side?”

When they took their invention to the 2018 BEST Medicine Engineering Fair at the University of Akron, her team took third place in the Medical Devices category. They won two additional awards for their prototype, but she’s got her sights set even higher as she enters high school – Aerospace Engineering and Astrophysics

Learn about the invention in her essay below.

“Putting a Finger on Safety”

From 2001 to 2011, there have been over twenty-five thousand known Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security breaches at airports. Of these intruders, fourteen thousand were able to reach restricted access or sensitive areas, and six thousand made it past government checkpoints with their carry-on luggage. Most likely, this number has escalated in recent years; however there are very few statistics readily available. Situations like these jeopardize the safety of citizens, and so our government continues to work tirelessly on improving safety measures and precautions. Some of the security tools that are currently being used include biometric apparatuses, including fingerprint sensors. Yet, while effective, these devices are not perfect. Common problems that occur are malfunctions and errors, which can lead to dangerous situations.  The solution to this problem is an angle-regulating device placed on a biometric fingerprint sensor to help scan and send accurate information to the corresponding resource.

A team of middle school students, including myself, created this idea and developed the prototype. We produced a device that enveloped an Arduino fingerprint sensor and left an opening over the screen of the sensor for the finger to be inserted. We specially designed it this way because when a finger is placed at the same angle through that opening, the prints that the sensor reads will have a higher probability of matching the prints enrolled in the sensor. Our original prototype was built mostly from packaging material (i.e. styrofoam), but I believe that in the future, the prototype would be even more successful if it was 3D printed. Regardless, the prototype we tested proved to be extremely adequate in supporting our hypothesis. The fingers scanned without the prototype resulted in approximately a 75% fail rate. However, when the prototype was implemented, the sensor was nearly 100% successful in recognizing prints. In addition, trials with the prototype produced immensely higher Confidence Levels. In the Arduino program that we used, the Confidence Level is what compares the scanned print to the print enrolled; a higher Confidence Level means that the two images matched more closely. The data collected from the experiment proves that our angle-regulating prototype improves the accuracy of the sensor.

Therefore, biometric controls with our prototype are undoubtedly more effective than those without it. The myriad of uses for this security innovation encompass reducing fraud and lowering home invasions, to alleviating medical errors. More importantly, though, is the security of our nation. This simple innovation can create safer schools and workplaces, increase White House security, and protect modes of transportation. The biometric sensor has endless possibilities to solve real-world problems!

Mollie Stracensky, 8th grader at St. Ambrose


A special thanks to every OSLN school that participated!

Willoughby-Eastlake School of Innovation Northwestern Middle School
The Dayton Regional STEM School Northwestern High School
St. Vincent de Paul NIHF STEM Highschool
St. Sebastian Parish School Metro Early College Middle School
St. Mary Chardon Mahoning County Career and Technical Center
St. Ambrose iSTEM Geauga Early College High School
Ranger Hi Tech Dayton Regional STEM School


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