Olivia Marion, a sixth-grader at the Sacopee Valley Middle School in Hiram, is a finalist in the NASA Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge. She created a prototype for a solar-powered heated hat. Credit: Kimberly Marion

Olivia Marion, 11, a sixth-grader at Sacopee Valley Middle School in Hiram, loves challenges, science, making stuff and NASA.

So when her mom, Kimberly Marion, found out last fall that the national space agency was holding a contest for students to inspire them to ignite their creative thinking, she figured her daughter would be up for it.

Olivia was.

The NASA Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge, called OPSPARC, asks students to use a technology originally developed for one of NASA’s missions and modify it into something else that can be used in their home, school or environment. Olivia, who lives in Hiram with her family, tried a few designs and then, in December, as the temperature plunged into sub-freezing territory, focused her creativity on making a prototype for a solar-power heated hat.

“I made a heated hat because people who work outside are getting frostbite, along with homeless people,” she said in a video on the multimedia project poster about her project. “In the world, there are heated gloves, and heated socks, but no heated hat. I can create this.”

Olivia’s hat incorporates carbon fiber heat tape developed by NASA. So far, her good idea has helped her make it to the round of top 10 finalists in her age group for the challenge, and she is the only Mainer to have advanced this far in the competition. The contest is open to votes from the public until Monday, April 30, and her mother said that the family has been buoyed by support from people from Maine who would like to see Olivia win.

“She’s very excited about it. We’re happy that she made it to the top 10,” Kimberly Marion said. “Everybody at school has been cheering her on, and she’s been feeling like this is a really awesome thing. Even if you don’t win, you can put this on your college applications. This is something that can go with you.”

Winners of the contest will visit NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for a two-day workshop and awards ceremony sometime in June. For Olivia, that would be a thrill, her mom said.

“She’s always been interested in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] things and very, very interested in science. She likes the creativity and designing things,” Kimberly Marion said.

At times, she added, Olivia’s interest in chemistry experiments have made her parents nervous, and even wiring up the heated hat led to some concerns.

“I was literally sweating it a few days in February,” Kimberly Marion joked. “Please don’t blow up my house.”

To vote for Olivia Marion, visit the webpage for the grades 3-6 finalists and scroll all the way down to the bottom. Some people may have an easier time accessing the voting page with smartphones rather than computers, according to Kimberly Marion.

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