Science project looks to solve deadly problem

Leanne Varney hoping to return to national science fair with new project

Leanne Varney, a Grade 11 Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School student, presented her project, Talk to You Later, Saving My Life, at the District Science Fair in 100 Mile House on Feb. 26. She has her sights sets on returning this year to the Canada-Wide Science Fair in May.

Leanne Varney, a Grade 11 Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School student, presented her project, Talk to You Later, Saving My Life, at the District Science Fair in 100 Mile House on Feb. 26. She has her sights sets on returning this year to the Canada-Wide Science Fair in May.

Among some of the brightest young scientific minds in the country assembled at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in May 2014 was that of a 100 Mile House student.

Leanne Varney’s experience there was an eye-opening one, to be sure, and she wants to win her way back again this year.

The Grade 11 Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School student is on the right path. Varney won the District Science Fair in 100 Mile House on Feb. 26, and is now off to the 2015 Cariboo Mainline Regional Science Fair in Kamloops, April 8-10.

If Varney’s new project impresses enough judges at regionals, she will get another chance at nationals, held this year across the country in New Brunswick, May 14-16.

“Honestly, it was the best experience I ever had,” Varney says of last year’s trip to the 2014 Canada-Wide Science Fair, which was held in Ontario. “All of us are fighting to get back there again this year.”

Her roommate last year was from New Brunswick and the pair still keep in touch. With awe, Varney talks about the top project by a 16-year-old Ottawa student, Daniel McInnis, who built a 3D scanner for making prosthetic limbs.

“Another girl came up with a new physics principle,” she adds. “It was just ridiculous.”

Her new project, “Talk to You Later, Saving My Life,” is a bold attempt to solve an increasingly dangerous problem worldwide – drivers texting from behind the wheel. It’s something the 16-year-old and her friends are starting to see firsthand.

Her proposal is a cellphone jamming device hooked up to a vehicle’s ignition, installed underneath the dash.

“When you turn your key in the ignition, it drops the switch and activates the circuit,” Varney

explains.

“It takes the signal from the cellphone and puts it back on itself, to kind of confuse itself into thinking there is no service there, even though there is.”

 

The jamming device when engaged ceases the cellphone’s incoming and outgoing capabilities. Ideally, drivers would have to pull over safely on the side of the road and switch off the ignition to use their cellphone. Instead of precariously fiddling with their phones while cruising with speed down the road.

Varney mentions a number of ideas that app developers and manufactures are coming up with to make driving safer with respect to curbing cellphone use, but none have really caught on universally. Regarding the actual building of the cellphone jamming device, Varney ran into a roadblock: it’s illegal to possess something like that in Canada, let alone start manufacturing.

If she wants to realistically go ahead with her proposal, local RCMP members suggested she start a petition to change Canadian law. And that’s what Varney is doing. She jokes she “only” needs to collect 400,000 signatures.

Varney started on this project in December. She has the schematics for the device, and she has the data collected from her own experiments done with friends and family to back up the notion that texting and driving is a very dangerous exercise, more deadly even than drinking and driving.

“Driving takes manual, visual and cognitive abilities. Texting impairs all three of those.”

Needless to say, Varney’s scientific pursuit these last four months has meant a lot of hard work, and she’s had to make at least one sacrifice most teenagers are not really keen to consider.

“I didn’t have a social life for a really long time,” Varney laughs. “I apologized to my friends for that.”

Hopefully she’s forgiven. In the end, her idea, her time and her effort, can maybe save one of their lives.

 

100 Mile House Free Press

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