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Future Scientists Make Waves

Lake Braddock students imagine what technology will be like in 20 years.

Jimmy Day, Michael Stewart and C.J. Tragakis envisioned a wireless machine that could explore the depths of the ocean better than the present-day robotic machines attached to cables.

The eighth-graders at Lake Braddock Secondary School needed a way to operate the machine, however. Electro magnetic waves don’t work well with water, said Michael, so they thought of sound waves.

"We’re making waves under the waves," said Jimmy, who wants to be a marine biologist someday.

Michael, Jimmy and C.J. make up one team out of many that entered the Toshiba National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision Awards competition. Eight Lake Braddock teams received an honorable mention award in March. Members from all of the teams, except for one high school team, are students in Lynn Henson’s science class. It’s one of three competitions the students have to choose from in order to receive an important project grade for class.

"I’m amazed with what they come up with," said Henson.

The Toshiba contest requires students take a technology that is current, and tweak it so that it becomes something they would expect to see in 20 years. This year, eight teams won an honorable mention in the competition that involves nearly 15,000 students from the United States and Canada. The entire contest is done via postal mail, so the students send their packages off and wait to hear if they’ve developed winning designs.

"We were screaming when we heard we won something," said Rebecca Mast, an eighth grader.

REBECCA AND CLASSMATE Rhitwika Sensharma created a cure for cancer using nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is "the understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly one to 100 nanometers, where unique phenomena enable novel applications," according to the federal National Nanotechnology Initiative program. Since it is such a new way of thinking, said Rebecca, the girls are optimistic about its capability.

Their design, called "Project Sentinel," uses the technology in a bracelet. Rhitwika said a button on the bracelet would send out a type of nano machine that would then spread radioactive particles and produce an image. A negative signal means the cell isn’t cancerous. The technology would be able to kill cancerous cells, which would then regenerate as healthy cells.

"It’s like a database of cancer cells," said Rebecca. "We were trying to find something innovative."

Another winning idea was a "nano pill," which came from the current camera pill — an ingestible video camera that produces digital images of the small intestine. The nano pill essentially uses radioactive dye to mark the spot on a person where a doctor needs to make a surgical incision, after it performs the same tasks as the camera pill. The inventors, Becky Peng and Rachel Song, also used nanotechnology, since it allowed them to make the nano pill much smaller than the camera pill.

"I feel like I want to patent this idea," said Rachel.

Elizabeth Stromberg and Maddie Stokowski created an electronic pillbox of sorts. Their invention, the Med-Soto, is a device to help identify and organize medications. Many pills and medications currently have bar codes on them to prevent counterfeiting, said Maddie. The Med-Soto would also be able to scan pills to help identify them if they’re dropped, and it would connect to a database containing all of the instructions for taking each medication.

"We came up with the idea because of a complaint from my mom that grandma had trouble sorting her medication," said Maddie.

THE STUDENTS WORK on their projects outside of class. Many of the winners said they worked on projects after school or on the weekends. Some of them spend several hours a week perfecting their designs, said Henson.

Henson’s help is key to each project’s success, said Trami Pham, another honorable mention winner for her teamwork on a nanotechnology cardiac-saver. Henson had progress checks with the students, where she inspects their concepts and help them fine-tune the projects.

"If our project was really bad, she’d tell us," said Trami.

Henson said that as a science teacher, she wants to make sure she’s sending in quality work to any contest. Her name is on the project too, so the standards are set high.

"I expect something that looks professional," she said.

The nanotechnology was a popular theme this year, which surprised Henson. It is not something the students are learning in her classroom, so she wasn’t sure where their knowledge and fascination with it came into play.

"It’s an independent project," said Henson. "I’m very proud of them."