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Vivien He

Vivien He

2022 Davidson Fellow Laureate
$50,000 Scholarship

Age: 18
Hometown: Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

Science: “Qube Network: A Low-Cost High-Sensitivity Consumer Seismic Network for Earthquake Early Warning”

About Vivien

I’m an incoming first-year student in college from Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. I’m excited to be attending Stanford University in the fall, where I hope to explore my many interests and apply them to making a better future. Earthquakes are an important issue close to my heart; I grew up with every SoCal quake reminding us of the looming “Big One”. 

Outside of research, I sang in my high school’s choir and competed on the dance team. In my free time, I enjoy reading, making art, singing and playing music, and watching classic movies with friends. I love watching video essays about all kinds of topics, like filmmaking, music theory, art history, philosophy, etc. While I work, I like listening to film soundtracks. I’m proud of the colony of about 50,000 honey bees, which I built and keep in my backyard. I founded a nonprofit, Melior Earth (melior is Latin for “better”), to fight against environmental challenges, from beach cleanups to my Qubes. I am honored to have been named a 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholar.

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"To me, being a Davidson Fellow means to care deeply about and commit yourself to making the world better, in both small and big ways. I am so excited and honored to be amongst such inspiring peers!"

Project Description

Earthquakes are a major global problem, causing the most fatalities of all the natural disasters. I invented a device called the Qube (quake + cube), which is the size of a Rubik’s cube and costs less than $100. It performs earthquake early warning, which means it’s like a smart smoke detector but for earthquakes. It has WiFi access and can issue alerts for incoming quakes via its alarm and by sending text messages. Many Qubes working together form a network that provides better warning. The Qube can give people time to take action before strong shaking, and also enable automated responses (shutting off gas lines, stopping trains, etc.), which can save lives and reduce the damage caused by earthquakes.

Deeper Dive

The natural disaster that causes the most deaths around the world is earthquakes. They are an important issue close to my heart; I grew up with every SoCal quake reminding us of the looming “Big One”. After the start of the pandemic, I read in a Science article that the world’s seismic activity had quieted due to the lockdown. I was intrigued by the idea that changes in human activity, and other minute ground motions, could be detected from anywhere. Could I measure it from my own room? Could I make a detector that warns me of incoming earthquakes? Building something like that could save lives and reduce the heavy damages associated with earthquakes.

Of course, I faced many challenges, taking on a project with little idea of what I was doing. The trick, luckily, was that I just had to go for it. I learned necessary skills, like hand-soldering miniscule parts mostly by trying, messing up, and trying again. Numerous cycles of Googling and trial and error helped smooth out software bugs. The design of what ended up being the Qube (quake + cube) went through several stages of evolution. Then, scaling up from one Qube to a network of Qubes was a whole new ball game. For example, only after painstakingly replicating many Qubes did I realize the need to differentiate them, so I added unique serial numbers and network IDs. I also spent days just on determining the time difference between different Qubes and syncing their clocks. And due to COVID-19, I couldn’t work in labs with good, proper equipment, but I’m pretty happy with what I managed to put together at home, like the cheap laser machine I found on eBay and a makeshift soldering setup in my bathroom. I’m incredibly lucky and grateful for my mentors, family, and friends, who gave me immense encouragement and support to strive further in my research and go for things, especially the ones I thought were far beyond reach. In particular, Professor Rob Clayton at the Caltech Seismological Laboratory really helped me improve the Qube, build the Qube Network, and get published.

The Qube has the potential to become a standard household safety item, like smoke detectors but for earthquakes. Earthquakes are a major global problem, not only causing the most fatalities among all natural disasters, but also hurting and displacing millions of lives, and generating hundreds of billions of dollars in damages. Mass adoption of the Qube could create dense seismic networks not available to seismologists and earthquake early warning (EEW) today. The low- cost nature of a Qube network could provide less-developed countries and communities with EEW capabilities, of which they are in great need but cannot afford today. In addition, as both a low-cost, convenient seismometer and as a mini seismic network, the Qube could be used in educational demos of seismology and earthquake detection and warning.


What’s the best thing you’ve bought so far this year?

An punny pin of an avocado / hatching dino egg that says “Jurassic Guac” (I’m a bit obsessed with pins)

If you had your human body, but the head of an animal, what animal would you pick?

I’d want a parrot head so I could still talk.

What is your favorite tradition or holiday?

This isn’t a holiday but I really enjoy the back-to-school time of year, when you get to catch up with friends, experience new classes and people, and school is more fun than tedious.

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In The News

Los Angeles – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2022 scholarship winners. Among the honorees are Vivien He, 18, of Rancho Palos Verdes, and Chunyi Zhou, 16, and Anjal Jain, 18, of Irvine. Only 21 students across the country are recognized as 2022 scholarship winners.

Download the full press release here