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Science Competition Showcases Smart Toothbrushes and GPS Equipped Walking Sticks

A national student science competition in its 20th year of operation has announced its regional winners. Among the entrants of the 2012 ExploraVision: a medical gum to check for strep throat, a surgical device to repair cleft lip or palate defects before birth, and a toothbrush that would detect the presence of cavities and heal them.

ExploraVision is a K-12 science and technology competition that encourages students in the United States and Canada to work in teams to come up with innovative technologies that could exist in 20 years. Many schools integrate development of projects into their curriculum. This year 4,807 teams with 14,602 students participated. The program is put on by the National Science Teachers Association and Toshiba.

Contest organizers say that the event immerses students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics while tackling major issues. Health issues dominated as a topic this year. For example, a team of K-3 students from Willow Grove Elementary in San Diego thought up a walking stick for the blind that would have a built-in brail keyboard that would provide directions, plus a GPS navigation system to calculate routes and provide voice directions.

Another team in that grade category from Francis Scott Key School in Philadelphia dreamed up the Cavity Prevention Detector, a toothbrush that would detect and prevent cavities by the use of tiny light sensors on the bristles, relaying information to a computer chip inside the brush.

A team of 4th-6th grade students from Sacred Heart School in Hartsdale, NY, developed an idea called Strep-A-Gum, "an effective, delicious way to test for strep throat." The students say the medical gum would change colors in the presence of Streptococcus.

A group of 7th-9th grade students from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA, came up with The Scar-Aid, a chemical mediator bandage that would use a three dimensional matrix of chemicals to prevent scarring after burns, surgery, or other traumas.

A team of students in the grade 10-12 category from the same school won the regional award for a project that envisions a new method of treating corneal endothelial damage through stem cell injections into the eye.

Another team in that grade category, this one from University Laboratory High School in Urbana, IL, came up with robotic surgical device to repair diagnosed cleft lip or palate defects in the womb.

According to Amy Attard, a coach for a team from West Hills Middle School in West Bloomfield, MI, that took second place in the 2011 competition with an intra-trachea breathing system, the event teaches students not just about STEM, but also about the processes of research and development, collaboration, and time management. "The students have to come up with four or five different inventions of their choice [and] research to make sure the invention isn't out there already. They have to research the positive impact and negative impact of their invention. They then have to design sketches. And from their design briefs, they then choose the one invention they want to pursue," she explains in a video about the process her teams follow when entering the competition. "From that point they have to plan out the project on their own. I give them deadlines in terms of certain times parts of the project have to be done, but the students learn time management along the way. I provide structure."

This year's competition awarded a Toshiba Thrive tablet to the educators who submitted the most student projects in each grade category. For being the school with the most overall submissions, Chaminade College Prep in West Hills, CA will also receive a Toshiba Classroom package with a TV/DVD combo, an LED TV, a PC, 10 LED light bulbs, and a Thrive Tablet.

Next, the regional winners in each of the four grade categories will move on to the national phase of the competition. The contest will name four first place winning teams, with each student on the teams receiving a $10,000 savings bond and Toshiba HD camcorder; and four second place winning teams, where each participating student will receive a $5,000 savings bond.

"Twenty years ago when ExploraVision was first launched, Toshiba had high hopes for a program that we believed could help motivate young people to excel in science and technology fields, and help them understand the value of scientific research and critical thinking," said Yoshihide Fujii, chairman and CEO of Toshiba America. "We could never have imagined that after two decades, ExploraVision would have been embraced by so many teachers and evolve into the valuable educational program it is today--and that hundreds of thousands of students across the U.S. and Canada would bring their intelligence, optimism, imagination, and energy to the challenge. It is especially gratifying to know that many of our ExploraVision students have gone on to pursue careers in science and engineering fields!"

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.