Problem Solving Teen Inventors Amaze President Obama (And Us) At White House Science Fair

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Students from Natick High School and Newton North High School, both in Massachusetts, traveled to the fourth White House Science Fair to showcase their Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam projects to President Obama today. The students joined more than 100 other students from around the country at the event, which recognizes winners from a broad range of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions.

The White House Science Fair fulfills a commitment the President made at the launch of his Educate to Innovate campaign in November 2009 – to inspire boys and girls to excel in math and science. The President noted at the start of this program, “If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you’re a young person and you produce the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too.”

The students from Natick and Newton North were honored for their achievements as 2012-2013 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam grant recipients from the Lemelson-MIT Program. The InvenTeam initiative inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention. InvenTeams are granted up to $10,000 each to conceptualize, design and build technological solutions to real-world problems.

“These students have successfully blended their minds-on knowledge with their hands-on skills…”

Natick_ROVKatelyn Sweeney and Olivia Van Amsterdam represented the Natick High School InvenTeam. The team developed a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for ice search and rescue dive teams. The land vehicle will quickly traverse the ice and lower a submersible detection device, which will assist a dive team when searching for objects or bodies in dangerously cold waters with temperatures of 33 – 45°F. Katelyn and Olivia have been instrumental in the filing of a U.S. utility patent for their device.

pedestrian alert systemFelege Gebru and Karen Cheuk-Wing Fan represented the Newton North High School InvenTeam. Noting the sobering statistic that Ethiopia has the highest rate of pedestrian deaths by vehicle in the world, the team developed a pedestrian alert system to be used in Addis Ababa, to alert crossing pedestrians of approaching vehicles, increasing pedestrian safety. The system is powered entirely by solar energy for minimal environmental impact. Felege shared his firsthand knowledge of the dangers that pedestrians encounter in his home country of Ethiopia and the InvenTeam has partnered with a sister school in Ethiopia to inform their understanding of the problem and guide the design.

“An invitation to the White House Science Fair is an incredible honor for these students,” said Leigh Estabrooks, the Lemelson-MIT Program’s invention education officer, who oversees the national InvenTeam initiative. “Katelyn, Olivia, Felege and Karen exemplify the qualities we look for in our InvenTeams because of their passion for invention and devotion to inspiring other youth. These students have successfully blended their minds-on knowledge with their hands-on skills and show what is possible when rigorous academics are blended with relevant career and technical education.”


Meet The Student Inventors

Katelyn Sweeney
Katelyn (17) is a senior at Natick High School and enjoys engaging with youth at the MIT Museum, talking about the fun of invention. In addition to InvenTeams, Katelyn is a Business Professionals of America team member. She seeks to help younger girls envision themselves as engineers and helped establish an all-girls robotics team at Natick High School with Olivia. She is also a counselor at the Natick High School robotics camp for middle school girls and boys. Katelyn will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall.

Olivia Van Amsterdam
Olivia (16) is a junior at Natick High School and represented the Lemelson-MIT Program and her InvenTeam at the Massachusetts STEM Summit last fall. In addition to leading the InvenTeam, Olivia is the captain of a co-ed robotics team and Business Professionals of America team member. Olivia is a counselor at the Natick High School robotics camp for middle school girls and boys. She also volunteers teaching robotics to Girl Scouts and has participated in the US Army Leadership program at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center (NSSC).

Felege Gebru
Felege (18) moved to the United States with his family from Ethiopia. He was a star student at Newton North High School, excelling in his AP classes while being involved with the design department, student government, and football. He is currently focusing his studies on Computer Science and Visual Arts at Brown University.

Karen Cheuk-Wing Fan
Karen (17) is a senior at Newton North High School and spends her spare time volunteering with the Greater Boston Chinese Culture Association and the Chinese Progressive Association, where she organized the effort to build a library in the Chinatown neighborhood of Boston. Karen is a leader on the InvenTeam and was recently selected to represent her teammates at a presentation to Mayor Setti Warren of Newton and Congressman Joe Kennedy. She will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall.

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