Every year at the start of school, students in Michele Chamberlain’s eighth grade science class at Lakeridge Middle School in Bonney Lake are tasked to create a solution to a real-world problem that is environmentally friendly and shows a sense of global awareness.
Last November, when 14-year-old Amelia Day came forward to talk to Chamberlain about the assignment, she knew the direction she wanted to go.
“Amelia came to me and she said, ‘I know you said to choose a project you love, and I love soccer and I want to do something with engineering, and I know I want to compete,’” recalled Chamberlain, who is also the STEM coordinator at Lakeridge.
Nearly a year later, Day has hit all her goals.
What started out as a soccer training tool to help athletes kick a ball in the right direction evolved into a physical therapy tool to help stroke victims in need of rehabilitation.
“This invention can help people who have damaged their neural pathways by making new neural pathways using both light and sound stimuli, incorporating more than just one sense,” Day explained in her submission video for the national Young Scientist Challenge competition.
Using a soccer ball, the bottom of an outdoor umbrella shaft, a tether, LED lights, a Bluetooth and a Raspberry Pi computer programming tool, Day put together her invention, which she calls the “Pressure Soccer Ball.” Users kick the ball at its pressure point, which activates the lights and a buzzing noise.
“I came up with the idea for my invention because I play soccer, and I found it hard to find where exactly on the ball to kick,” Day said. “That was the original idea for my invention.”
After talking with Chamberlain, Day found out her project could be used for more.
“Its main focus is stroke therapy,” Day said. “It uses the aspect of a soccer training tool and that interface (makes) it fun, but it also uses the Bluetooth audio feedback to rebuild the neural pathways inside the brain, and this is what is needed to recover from a stroke.”
With the help of Chamberlain, Day entered her project into Discovery Education’s 3M “Young Scientist Challenge 2016,” a national competition where fifth- to eighth-graders from all over the country “identify a solution to an everyday problem that directly impacts them, their families, their communities, and/or the global population.”
To enter, Day had to submit a one- to two-minute video detailing her problem and solution.
In June, Day found out she was one of ten finalists selected to compete in the Final Event at the 3M Headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“They called my mom’s phone number and left a message saying they were from the 3M Challenge and needed us to call back,” said Day, who’d been on her way home from soccer practice. “All the way home I could not stop saying, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I knew it had to be something. When I found out, I just couldn’t stop running around the house.”
They called my mom’s phone number and left a message saying they were from the 3M Challenge and needed us to call back. All the way home I could not stop saying, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I knew it had to be something. When I found out, I just couldn’t stop running around the house.
Amelia Day, freshman at Sumner High School
All throughout the summer, Day worked hard on her invention, going through three soccer balls and creating two full-sized prototypes. She also had to create a scientist notebook and work with an assigned 3M mentor. She prepared for her presentation to the judges, practicing over and over until she got it down.
At one point, Day, who has played soccer since she was 4 years old, injured her ankle during a soccer tournament — an ironic moment, she says, if not very fun.
“That invention could have been used for my rehabilitation,” she said. “I didn’t need any, but if I did, it could have been used for that.”
Chamberlain acted as a mentor to Day, too, helping throughout the summer and into the school year.
“We set up a mock panel (at school) on a Saturday,” Chamberlain said. “We were able to really give her feedback. By the time she got to nationals, her presentation was rock-solid.”
Day traveled with her mother and Chamberlain to St. Paul in October. They stayed there for four days. On the first day, Day became acquainted with her competitors, who she still talks to over the internet.
“Everyone’s inventions were amazing,” she said. “They’re great people.”
Day also participated in an on-the-spot challenge, where she was paired with another contestant to work together to create a solution to a real-world problem. Her last challenge was presenting her own invention to a panel of judges and a room full of people.
“You had to hit all the components (the judges) were looking for,” she said. “It’s a lot of pressure. I was really proud of how I did. I thought it was one of my better run-throughs. I gave it my all. I knew no matter what place I got I’d be happy with it.”
At the awards ceremony, Day found out she was selected as third runner-up.
“I was really happy,” she said. “I didn’t know which way it was going to go. Everyone was super prepared.”
As third runner-up, Day received a cash reward and gets to go to a live taping of a Discovery Network show. Now a freshman at Sumner High School, she has future plans for her invention, hoping to someday patent it and get it into physical therapy centers.
As a science teacher, Chamberlain said that traveling to nationals opened her eyes.
“The global problems that we’re facing are going to be solved by 13-, 14-, 15-year-olds,” she said. “We have to let (students) become the experts. Amelia has become the expert of her own work.”