Area teens invent their way into final science competition

COAST CITIES — Bright ideas, solid research and teamwork won four students from Carmel Valley Middle School and Santa Fe Christian School a spot as finalists in the Christopher Columbus Awards.
Seventh-graders Sean Colford, Ethan Epstein, Brandon Loye and Michael Walsh, and their coach Rhonda Epstein, made it to the semifinals in May in Auburn, N.Y., and now are one of eight finalist teams in the country to compete for the grand prize — the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community grant. The program is a nationwide program that challenges middle-school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities.
The team and their coach won an all-expense-paid trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, where they will compete in the Christopher Columbus Awards National Championship Week, June 14 through June 19, plus a $200 grant to further develop their project.
Because the mother of one of the students is a physical therapist, the students became aware of the growing problem of repetitive stress injuries, or RSIs. RSIs are a group of conditions caused by placing excessive stress or repeated motion on a joint or muscle and are collectively the No. 1 work-related health problem in the U.S., according to the Occupational Safety and Health Association. The students were particularly concerned about RSIs that can result when students and workers maintain poor posture at their computer workstations. These RSIs cause pain, reduce productivity, diminish quality of life and cost individuals, businesses, and the government millions in insurance and on-the-job injury claims.
The students conducted research online and consulted with several physical therapists as well as the director of Environmental Health and Safety at Qualcomm to determine what current ergonomic solutions best address the problem of computer-related RSIs. They then set out to create their own solution, with the assistance of engineering, electrical circuitry, and business experts, as well as their former science teacher. The result was the Ergonomic Posture Alignment Device or Ergo-PAD, a specialized seat cushion that uses sensory feedback to train people to develop a healthy posture when sitting at a computer.
“If people work at a computer while sitting on our Ergo-PAD,” the team members said, “then they will adopt a more favorable, more aligned body position.”
A panel of community leaders, scientists and experts in science education selected this idea as one of the top eight entries in the U.S. More than 600 students and coaches participated nationwide.
Each member of two Gold Medal winning teams will receive a $2,000 U.S. Savings Bond, and one team will receive the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant as seed money to help bring its idea to life in the community. The winning team will receive support from the Christopher Columbus Awards staff and continued guidance from their coach and community leaders. The finalists will also attend the Christopher Columbus Academy, a custom-designed educational program. Conducted by scientists, engineers and educators, the program reveals the science and technology behind Epcot and the Magic Kingdom.

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