A group of St. Francis DeSales High School students are hoping to help people with disabilities turn the pages.
Several devices exist that enable those with limited mobility to turn the pages of a book one at a time. The 16 students on the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam at DeSales have set themselves the far more complex and daunting task of inventing something that can turn multiple pages as the reader desires.
Special-needs students in the Columbus area could really use such a device, according to Jim Savinell, a math teacher at the Catholic high school in the Northland area and the team's adviser.
Savinell said he was motivated to apply to the program -- named for prolific inventor Jerome H. Lemelson -- at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology after seeing a presentation last year at the Columbus School for Girls by an InvenTeam from an all-girls school in Toledo.
"I was just really inspired by how articulate the high school students were, and it was something I just wanted to bring to DeSales," Savinell said.
That group of young women had set themselves the task of inventing an automated pill dispenser to be of use to their grandparents.
This past spring, Savinell filled out an initial grant application and in June traveled to Cambridge, Mass., to undergo training.
St. Francis DeSales is one of 14 high schools around the country, and the only one in Ohio, to receive grants from the Lemelson-InvenTeam program this year.
DeSales received a grant of $6,600.
"InvenTeam students rely on inquiry and hands-on problem-solving as they apply lessons from science, technology, engineering and math to develop invention prototypes," the program's website states.
It goes on to say that interactive, self-directed learning coupled with STEM curricula "are essential for experiencing invention."
Students learn to work in teams, while collaborating with the intended users of their inventions. They partner with professionals in their communities to enrich their experiences.
The first challenge the students face is: What to invent?
"Initially, the grant is completely wide open, and so I proposed the idea of an automatic page-turner," Savinell recalled. "It was just based on my Aunt Joanie, who is a piano player and said she could use a machine to turn the pages for her.
"I suggested that to the students, but when they started researching it, they took it in a whole new direction."
The students investigated the machines that already exist for turning the pages of a book, and found that none enable those with disabilities to flip multiple pages at a time.
"Progress is being made, and the challenging part on my end is that I'm in completely foreign territory," Savinell said. "I am learning as much as the students are. We're all figuring this out together, from the computer programming to the mechanical parts to machining parts to actually make the machine.
"It really is just this very integrated learning."
The InvenTeam participants are studying physics, mechanics, mathematics and computer modeling. They also are coming to know the plight of people with such disabilities as cerebral palsy and how the invention they're working on could be a boon, Savinell said.
"That's been, for me, the most rewarding aspect for the students, is how the project has fostered empathy for people and students with disabilities ... and to hear a person with cerebral palsy say, 'I love to read,' and all of these people are creating a machine for them and really tailoring it for them," he said.
"It has been a huge time commitment on the part of students and mentors and other teachers here at DeSales, but to me, it's worth it when students get that moment of empathy and see the real dignity of these people."
The automatic page-turner and all other aspects of the project must be completed by June, when students on the team will make a presentation about it at MIT, Savinell said.
Members of the DeSales InvenTeam are freshman Jake Paugh; sophomores Danny Barren, Luke Gillan and Nic Limbert; juniors Ali Baird, Bailey Cadena, Elisa Curl, Jessie Hamilton, Mackenzie Kraker, Charlie Mitchell, Emily Piatt, Sam Vincent and Jennifer Vu; and seniors Ben Dumm, Anthony Hayes and Maddy Lyons.