By Nancy Koeneman
The concept is called an advanced prosthetic technology arm (APTA), a limb using polymers, a shape memory alloy and nanotechnology.
A multidisciplinary research project at the UI? Not really, it's actually an award-winning combination of science and imagination created by three University High School students. And the award is not merely a blue ribbon.
Daniel Beedy, Balazs Bognar and Richard Lin will each receive a $10,000 savings bond for their education. University High has received a color TV and a VCR and will get a copy machine. The prizes and recognition are given through the Toshiba/National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision Awards.
"We're all proud of it and we're all exhausted," said Dave Stone, adviser to the students for the project and a biology teacher at University High.
Although the three seniors began brainstorming early in the year, it took several weeks of intensive work to complete the essay and storyboards describing their idea, the APTA. "[The students] clearly put in over 100 hours on it," Stone said.
The premise behind the competition is creating a vision of technologies 20 years into the future. The students write an essay and create storyboards that describe the technology.
Beedy, Bognar and Lin used their shared and individual interests to create the APTA concept.
"We looked into some scientific magazines and we saw that nanotechnology and polymer scaffolding were breakthrough technologies," Lin said. "Shape memory alloys are something that I was studying in class, so we incorporated these things into the project."
They then divided up the research and writing, and compiled their efforts.
Their description of the APTA calls it a "biodegradable plastic polymer form fitted digitally at the site of the injury. After the prosthesis is grafted onto the body, nanomachines mimic the patient's DNA and regenerate blood vessels and nervous systems, eventually replacing the polymer form and creating a new limb."
The second stage of the competition began when the students were chosen as finalists. Toshiba/NSTA gave them $500 to create a video about their dream technology. Creating the video became one of the most challenging parts of the project for the team. They struggled with the computerized video transfer process, Stone said.
The video provided an overview of what the APTA could be.
"It was mainly about the different technologies - nanotechnology, shape memory alloys and scaffolding polymers," Beedy said. "We then showed a model of our finished product using computer animation and had an interview with a prosthetist [a person whose specialty is the study, use, design or manufacture of artificial limbs]."
The video took an extraordinary amount of time, Bognar said.
"There were several hundred hours of work on the video. The hours are uncountable. We lost track," he said. "We were in school until 4 a.m. on the computers."
But the rewards are also uncountable. The three students, along with their parents, and Stone, will be flown to Washington, D.C., this weekend for a series of events that include the award ceremony Saturday. They will have the opportunity to hear presentations from science luminaries, including Paul Zaloom, Beakman of CBS's "Beakman's World"; and Nobel prize-winning physicist Leon M. Lederman.
Takeshi Okatomia, Toshiba's Chairman and CEO, and Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the NSTA, will present the awards.
More than 5,000 teams entered the competition this year; four teams were chosen for first-place awards.
Although they are looking forward to the awards weekend, in many ways, it's simply good to have the competition behind them, Stone said.
"We were so happy to have it completed, and so exhausted, that when we got the phone call [that we'd won the award], we were relieved to have it come to an end," he said. "This has almost become a part of all of us.... [the students] did a superb job on this and it's nice to see [the team] acknowledged as they are."