Two of S.C.’s young innovators explore the intersection of engineering and body function to help those with cerebral pals

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Having recently attended the Finalists Reception for the 2016 InnoVision Technology Awards, I continue to be impressed by the range and quality of inventions being realized in this state. But what captured my attention and impressed me the most was the inventive spirit demonstrated by two 2016 high school graduates from Columbia, S.C. The girls won the Young Innovator Award, sponsored by Michelin for their research in assistive technology.

Kayla Shine, a graduate of Dutch Fork High School and now a biochemistry freshman at Clemson University, and Alexa Eyring, a graduate of Chapin High School and now a biomedical engineering freshman at Duke University, worked together at USC’s Center for Advanced Technical Studies in Chapin, S.C., under the direction of Krystal DuBose and Julie Krusen. The STEM program is part of Project Lead The Way, an initiative that resembles technical college more than high school. The program presents high school students with real world challenges and allows them to work with professional tools and mentors to solve compelling technical problems.

Kayla and Alexa decided to focus on the intersection of engineering and human body function. In particular they decided to investigate the challenges faced by persons with cerebral palsy and determine if biomedical science could assist. They gained firsthand experience about motor skill difficulties by visiting an elementary school in the Columbia area and directly observing the effects of this neurological disorder on the children. They decided to focus on designing a spoon that could address the inhibited fine motor skills that make it very difficult to grasp and steady a utensil handle.

With their gathered understanding, they set their course on providing independence and confidence to young diners. They began experimenting with spoon handle diameter, weight and angles, but they also recognized the pragmatic goal of making the spoon suitable for a dishwasher. They quickly settled on an angled spoon with an upper arch (a sort of stirrup design) and a spoon bowl with unusually high sidewalls. They even considered placing weights within the larger diameter handle so as to cancel the tendency of some users to experience hand tremors.

They then put their designs to the test by employing Solid Works to provide 3-D printed objects that could be lab tested and adapted. The more advanced prototypes were taken to the school for feedback from children and physical therapists. This provided the information for sequential improvements and the final project’s designs. (Did I mention these are recent high school graduates?)

Test results instilled real confidence that their designs would provide important improvements to the lives of those who cannot readily tighten their hands around small-diameter implements. The research is hoped to benefit a wide range of consumers of all ages. The two young innovators are planning to file design patents for their inventions.

I certainly urge all to attend the 2016 InnoVision Technology Awards. You will be inspired by the talented youth of South Carolina every bit as much as any invention from the adults.

 

Defined

Assistive technology: Devices, systems or software that improve or enable people to accomplish certain previously difficult tasks and thereby promote greater independence.

For more on Project Lead the Way, visit pltw.org
For more information on the Young Innovators Award, visit innovisionawards.org/awards/the-ibrahim-janajreh-young-innovator-program.

 


InnoVision Technology Awards

When: Nov. 3 at 5 p.m.

Where: Greenville Hyatt

Tickets: email Angela Halprin at angela@innovisionawards.org

Information: innovisionawards.org

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