Kona Students Develop BAC Detection System

Awarded the prestigious Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams grant, 20 Kealakehe High School students in grades 9-12 are developing a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) detection system that works within a car to quickly and reliably determine if a driver is inebriated. The students recently did their first round of calibration testing at Habaneros Grill in Kailua-Kona. The students partnered with the owners to test the BAC of over 50 adult volunteers. Students will use this data to make a model of their NIR Spectroscopy BAC level compared to a BAC test administered by a medical doctor at the same event.

The students set up four different test stations. Station 1 was a real breathalyzer which gave baseline data. Station 2 was a homemade breathalyzer. Station 3 was a homemade near infrared spectrometer (NIR Spectrometer) and Station 4 was a professional spectrometer from NIR Quest. The homemade breathalyzer, homemade spectrometer and actual spectrometer’s data were compared to that of the actual breathalyzer to calibrate them, according to STEM student Evan Curry. A spectrometer works by shining light on a sample and then measuring the quantity and wavelengths of light that return. Ethanol has a very specific wavelength it reflects, so if this wavelength is detected in higher quantities than usual, Curry says he and his classmates believe they can determine the blood alcohol content and hope this data is sufficient to accurately detect the BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) of an individual.

Students were honored to have representatives from MADD on hand to let patrons know about the dangers and consequences of drinking and driving. The students hope that one day the idea of drinking and driving will be as foreign a concept as driving in a car without seat belts installed. The students are raising money for travel to present their research at the 2018 MIT EurekaFest. Community members interested in partnering with the project can contact Justin Brown at [email protected]