Modern cell phones still take forever to charge, from a brisk but often still inconvenient 20 minutes to upwards of a full hour. So imagine how revolutionary a charger that’d do the job in less than half a minute might be.
18-year-old Indian-American science student Eesha Khare of Saratoga, Calif. proposed solving the problem using a supercharger that slides into your mobile phone’s battery, allowing it to charge in just 20 to 30 seconds. In fact Khare did more than just propose it, she actually built a tiny super-capacitor and demonstrated its ability to power an LED device. Here’s her description of the project in a California State Science Fair outline:
With the rapid growth of portable electronics, it has become necessary to develop efficient energy-storage technology to match this development. While batteries are currently used for energy-storage, they suffer from long charging times and short cycle life. Electrochemical supercapacitors have attracted attention as energy-storage devices because they bridge the gap between current alternatives of conventional capacitors and batteries, offering higher energy density than conventional capacitors and higher power density than batteries. Despite these advantages, supercapacitor energy density is much lower than batteries and increasing energy density remains a key challenge in supercapacitor research. The goal of this work was to design and synthesize a supercapacitor with increased energy density while maintaining power density and long cycle life.
Mission accomplished: In addition to accolades for actually designing the device, the project secured Khare one of two runner-up spots in Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair, where she beat out over 1,600 finalists from more than 70 countries, netting her a cool $50,000 in prize money. (The top prize, $75,000, went to 19-year-old Romanian Ionut Budisteanu’s design work on a low-cost autonomous vehicle control system.)
“I’m in a daze. I can’t believe this happened,” Eesha told San Francisco CBS affiliate KPIX 5.
Why’d she pick this particular design challenge? “My cellphone battery always dies,” Khare told NBC News, adding that her device is flexible enough that it could also be used in rollup displays or fabric-based material.
According to Intel, Eesha received its prestigious Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award because she “recognized the crucial need for energy-efficient storage devices,” adding that her invention “also has potential applications for car batteries.” Khare is headed to Harvard this fall, where she plans to continue her research.