Teen's invention could charge cellphones in 20 seconds

A potentially game-changing invention by an 18-year-old high school student grew out of a simple problem that plagues teenagers (and just about everyone else).

“I’m a teenager and I have a cellphone and my cellphone battery always dies, so I was really looking for a way to improve energy storage,’’ Eesha Khare said on TODAY Tuesday. “That’s how I came across supercapacitors.’’

The Saratoga, Calif., teenager, who graduated from high school last week, won a $50,000 prize on May 17 at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for creating a device that can store enough energy to potentially charge a cellphone in 20 to 30 seconds. In addition, the device lasts for 10,000 charge-recharge cycles, compared to 1,000 cycles for most cellphone batteries.

“It charges very quickly and can store a lot of energy,’’ Khare said. “The cool thing is it’s at the nano-scale, so (it's) really a lot thinner than one strand of hair.”

Khare has not used her invention to recharge a cellphone yet, instead demonstrating its capability by using it to power a light-emitting diode (LED). If used on cellphones, the supercharger would slide on to the phone’s battery to juice it up in a matter of seconds. The technology is not available to consumers yet, and it could be years until it is.

“I think it will take a couple years more,’’ Khare said. “There’s still a lot more to be done with the supercapacitor device, but it’s definitely coming soon in the future.”

At an Intel event in Phoenix, Khare won the Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award, taking second place overall in the world’s largest high school science research competition. She beat out more than 1,600 finalists from 70 countries. She said on TODAY that she has been approached by several companies to continue her research, but is currently focused on attending Harvard University in the fall.

A talented Indian dancer who also was a varsity field hockey player in high school, Khare is not sure of what she will major in at Harvard yet, or whether there will be future technologies she will be working on.

“Right now, just my education, but hopefully we’ll see what happens in the future,’’ she said about her plans. “I have a lot of interests, so we’ll see what I do in the future.’’