When Amelia Day was stumped on what to create for her eighth-grade science project last fall, her teacher suggested she start by asking herself what she loved.
The obvious answer for the 13-year-old was soccer. Day has played on teams since she was 4 years old, most recently as a defender, and hopes to play for Sumner High School this fall. The question that followed: How could she use that love of the sport to help people?
The solution was a device that lights up and makes noise when a soccer ball is kicked properly. Day said she initially intended for the device to be used in soccer training, but quickly realized it has potential application in physical and occupational therapy, especially for people with visual and hearing impairments.
“When you kick a ball, you’re learning which is the right way to do it, and working that into your muscle memory,” she said. “I hope this could help open up the market for more tools that can help more people actually play sports.”
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Day won her school’s science fair, and after that, the district’s middle school fair and the South Sound Regional Science and Engineering Fair.
Those wins eventually led to her qualifying for the national Broadcom Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering Rising Stars competition. Semifinalists will be announced next month. The winner of the October finals in Washington, D.C., gets $25,000.
Day is also in the running for the 2016 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. She is one of 10 finalists who will compete for a $25,000 prize Oct. 17-18 in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Day’s mom, Tori, is a graphic designer, and her dad, Aaron, is an electrical engineer. The pair say they had little to do with their daughter’s invention, except for talking with Amelia about her ideas and answering questions about circuitry.
“She has so many ideas and constantly wants to try new things — if there were 40 hours in a day, she would fill them all and still have more things she wanted to do,” Tori Day said.
Tori said much of the prototype was built using materials Amelia found around the house — two old soccer balls, for example, and an old patio umbrella base for the foundation. Amelia said the device cost about $60 in materials.
Amelia modified the soccer ball so it was tethered to the umbrella stand, and filled it with LED lights and a buzzer that are activated when a pressure center on the ball is kicked. She also put a beeper in the ball and Braille on the pressure center, so blind people could set the device up themselves. She has named it Press-Sure.
This summer, in preparation for the 3M competition, Day was paired with Done Demigroz, a Minnesota-based chemical engineer and 3M scientist tasked with serving as her mentor through the process of developing her prototype.
Demigroz said she has Skyped and emailed with Day several times this summer.
“(Amelia) thinks like a true scientist,” Demigroz said. “She has a very curious mind, and lots of questions and ideas — she wants to know everything.”
Amelia is working to make the device even more affordable for those who need it. She said she hopes one day it will be available not only in physical and occupational therapy centers in the United States, but also in impoverished communities worldwide.
As for the $25,000 prize money, Amelia has already thought about what she might do with it if she were to win.
“I’m actually hoping to get (the device) patented,” Amelia said. “I’d like to find a company that would be able to implement it in soccer training or for medical use.”
Hannah Shirley: 253-597-8670, @itshannah7