FRANCONIA — At 14, Rachel Bergey doesn't know exactly where her future career path will lead, but having a patent for designing a Spotted Lanternfly trap and having just won a $10,000 prize at a national science fair competition gives an indication of what could be.
"I've always loved science," the home-schooled student said. "Ever since I was little, I was always very fascinated with it and I think it would be a really cool field to go into."
Top interests now are engineering, such as she did for the lanternfly trap, or medicine, she said, but that could change.
"Obviously, I still have time and I'll probably discover other things that catch my mind," she said, "but, yeah, I love science."
The idea for the Spotted Lanternfly trap came out of seeing the invasive insects when she was climbing a tree at home in the late spring or early summer of last year, she said.
At the time, not a lot was known about how to combat the lanterflies, she said. The options were to put sticky tape on the trees for the lanternflies to get stuck on, spray chemicals or cut down the tree.
"Obviously, we didn't want to cut down the tree," she said. "We didn't feel very comfortable with spraying it with chemicals because we didn't know what the other side effects of that would be."
They tried the tape, but found it also captured other beneficial insects (and even a bird once), and that the lanternflies could sometimes free themselves from the tape.
The trap she ultimately came up with after much trial and error used something she had seen as the insects moved about on the tree, Bergey said.
"The key part was that I wanted to use their natural instinct to go up against them because I noticed they wanted to go up and not down," she said.
One day she put a piece of tin foil around a tree, then saw a lanternfly walking through an opening that had been left, she said.
The trap she came up with uses a foil barrier with a tunnel opening that is the only way for the lanternflies to keep moving up the tree trunk, she said. When they go into the tunnel, which she made out of a piece of water bottle plastic, it leads to netting that traps the insect which dies in about 24 hours, she said.
Over a two week testing period, her traps each captured about 600 lanternflies, which was 103 percent more lanternflies than the tape. Her traps captured 94 percent fewer other insects than the tape, she said.
"It was remarkably better, which I was really happy about," Bergey said.
She has patented the design, she said.
"I'm trying right now to figure out what the future is for this," Bergey said.
"My goal and my hope is that I want to help people save their trees," she said.
Eradicating the lanternflies would also help Pennsylvania's economy because the insect is hurting logging industries, she said.
"I just really wanna help my community and so this project has really just given me a lot of great opportunities so far and I can't wait to see where it leads to," Bergey said.
She said she would like to be able to work with a company to manufacture it, but changes in the materials used and more work would be needed before that could happen.
"Right now, obviously it's made out of tin foil and netting. It's not ready for market at all," she said, "but the idea of how it works is what's most important."
She's been contacted by several people who would like to make their own and is considering making a do-it-yourself video or written instructions for making the traps, she said.
Rachelle Bergey, Rachel's mother, said being a category winner in the Montgomery County Science Research Competition in March at Germantown Academy took Rachel to the regional Delaware Valley Science Fairs in April at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks.
Another win there made her eligible to apply for the Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars) competition in October in Washington, D.C. The Broadcoms are a program of the Society for Science & the Public.
The Broadcom applicants are first narrowed down to 300 semifinalists, then 30 finalists, the Bergeys said.
While the Broadcom application includes questions about your project, there are also other farther reaching essay questions, Rachel Bergey said.
"They want to know about your project, but they also want to know about you and your interests," she said.
"The Broadcom MASTERS inspires middle school students to follow their personal passions to exciting college and career pathways in STEM. Thirty finalists took home more than $100,000 in awards. They were honored during an awards ceremony on October 29th for their achievements in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) together with their demonstration of 21st Century skills including critical thinking, communication, creativity, collaborative skills and team work," according to a press release.
Bergey was awarded the $10,000 Lemelson Award for Invention.
Jerome "Jerry" Lemelson, who the award was named for, amassed more than 600 patents, information on the Lemelson Foundation web site says.
Bergey said she was inspired by his patent count and engineering work.
"I'm still in shock that I got it. I was not expecting it at all," she said.
"Rachel is extremely inquisitive. She is able to sit back and make observations before she finds a solution," said Lisa Reichley, a teacher at Quakertown Christian School and former teacher at Dock Mennonite Academy's former Penn View campus and Bergey's sponsor-teacher through the science fair contests.
It was interesting watching Bergey go through the process, Reichley said.
Bergey was one of the 11 home-schooled students she took to the Montgomery County Science Research Competition, with nine of them winning awards and four qualifying to move on to the Delaware Valley Science Fairs, Reichley said.
"All four girls placed at DelVal, which was absolutely amazing," she said.
Participants in science fairs do research-based independent projects for which they have to plan and present results, she said.
Rachel has been home-schooled since fourth grade, Rachelle Bergey wrote in information for this article. Her curriculum is called Classical Conversations. She meets once a week with other students in her group in Souderton and does her school work at home the other four days.