Necessity is the mother of invention, the old saying goes, and if there’s a common enough problem, someone’s going to come along and solve it.
This fall, 10 students from around the nation are coming together to share their solutions for problems they’ve encountered: a semiconductor battery that can power anything without the use of toxic chemicals, a wind energy harvesting device that is both eco-friendly and cost efficient, a biodegradable plastic to help solve the world’s garbage problem and more.
One of these scientists is Sumner student Amelia Day.
According to Day, close to half a million Americans with hearing and vision impairments, not to mention the countless people going through physical and occupational therapy, may find the seemingly simple act of kicking a soccer ball correctly more difficult than the average person.
Day has set out to find a solution to this problem, and in doing so, found herself among the top 10 finalists in the national 2016 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.
Every year, Discovery Education and 3M hold a national contest for students aged 12 – 14, challenging these growing scientists come up with a creative solution to everyday problems.
As one of the finalists, Day, 13, was awarded $1,000 and will be heading to the 3M headquarters in St. Paul, Minn., in October to compete against the other finalists for the chance to win $25,000 and the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist.”
There are many components to the competition, but one of the biggest is developing and presenting a working prototype of the invention.
Day already has a working prototype, but will be working with 3M Senior New Product Developer Dr. Döne Demirgöz, who focuses her own work on developing wound care and medical technology.
Together, Day and Demirgöz will be improving Day’s design of a tethered soccer ball designed to train both soccer players and those who may have a disability or impairment on how to properly kick a ball.
“It has been fantastic working with Amelia for the last couple of weeks,” Demirgöz wrote in an email. “She shows her creativity, curiosity and her scientific thinking through our conversations, and I always look forward to the next one. Her enthusiasm is contagious. As someone who also wants to improve at soccer, I see a real application from her invention.”
The creation of the Press-Sure Soccer Ball
Day first thought of the idea for her invention long before she entered the Young Scientist Challenge.
Since the first grade, Day has entered herself into her school’s science fairs. She typically chose to focus her projects on research, but for the most recent fair, she decided to invent something. The only problem was, she had no idea what to make.
“My teacher went up in front of the class and gave tips on how to come up with ideas,” Day said. “One of the best tips she gave was, ‘make it about something you love.'”
As an avid soccer player, Day decided to focus on the game and the issues she has with the sport – specifically, the fact that she has always had trouble correctly kicking the ball.
Her coaches would give her as much help as they could, she said, but they had an entire team to focus on and couldn’t afford to give her the individual attention she needed.
It was from these difficulties that the Press-Sure Soccer Ball was conceived as a solution for growing soccer players like Day to be able to not only train themselves in soccer, but to know that they’re training correctly.
After assembling a working model with her knowledge of electronics and soccer mechanics, Day placed first in not only the Lakeridge Middle School Science Fair, but also the Sumner School District Science Fair, the South Sound Regional Science Fair and the Washington State Science and Engineering Science Fair.
Placing first in the state-wide competition moved Day up to the national Science and Engineering Festival.
It was during the state-wide science fair when her teachers brought the Young Scientist Challenge to Day’s attention.
Day said she was really busy dealing with the state science fair as well as getting ready for the national science fair, but decided to bunker down and film the two-minute video the Young Scientist Challenge required for submissions.
She learned she was a finalist on June 7, but wasn’t able to let anyone outside of her family and teachers know for several weeks.
She said it was hard hiding her secret from her friends, who asked why she was grinning the whole time.
The science behind the soccer ball
Since one of Day’s biggest challenges in soccer was kicking the ball correctly, she focused on creating a soccer ball that would let a player know if it was kicked it the right way.
In short, a proper kick uses the center of the inside the foot to make contact with the center of the soccer ball, Day said.
With this in mind, Day cut open one of her soccer balls and stuffed it with electronics and tethered the ball to a mobile post.
Inside the soccer ball is a pressure sensor, marked on the outside of the ball by a green square. While the ball is motionless, the sensor acts as a resistor, blocking electricity from flowing to a buzzer and lights installed in the post.
But if the ball is kicked correctly, with your foot making contact with the green square and the pressure sensor, the lights and buzzer will activate, Day said.
There are three positions the ball can be placed in to practice different passes and work on different muscles into muscle memory, she continued. Users can practice long passes by placing the green square marking the pressure center on the bottom left or bottom right of the ball, or practice short passes by keeping the green square in the lower center of the ball.
“I haven’t done the research into the different muscle categories, but I do know that different types of kicks will likely work different muscles,” she said.
Soccer players can use the Press-Sure Soccer Ball to stay up on their training, but Day thinks that through constant repetition and appropriate stimuli and feedback, the Press-Sure Soccer Ball can help those with impairments or disabilities.
“Somebody whose gone through a stroke, they actually lose neural connections inside the brain which can help you remember leg functions and stuff like that,” Day said. “When they lose those connections, they may not exactly remember simple functions we take for granted.”
Through the constant use of the Press-Sure Soccer Ball, Day said stroke victims can basically reform those neural pathways in a way that is more fun and entertaining than typical physical and occupational therapy.
“This makes it fun for whoever is working on their physical therapy,” Day said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people in physical therapy, and most of what they say is they hate it. And if you dislike something, you’re not going to work quite as hard at getting better at it than if you actually enjoy what you’re doing.”
Repetition is key in reforming those pathways, Day continued, but the lights and sounds created by kicking the ball are also very important.
“Most of the information we intake, 90 percent of it is visual,” Day said. “And sound can possibly create new neural pathways if you hear it in different ears – if you hear a sound in the left ear, for some reason, it helps create neural pathways.”
The buzzer and lights can also help people with vision and hearing impairments, Day said – the lights can help a deaf person know they kicked the ball correctly, and the buzzer can tell a blind person the same thing.
There is another buzzer in the ball that can be set to constantly beep, allowing someone with vision issues to locate and kick the ball. Day got this idea from blind pole vaulter Charlotte Brown, who used a beeper to tell her where to plant the pole for her jump. This allowed Brown to claim bronze in the Texas state championship in 2015.
The green square on the ball is also covered with braille dots, making it easy to distinguish from the rest of the ball.
With the Press-Sure Soccer Ball being entered in both 3M’s Young Scientist Challenge and the USA Science and Engineering Festival, Day is looking at securing a patent for her invention.
Day is hoping to continue her research into how her invention can help those with disabilities and eventually patent it as a medical tool, but is planning on patenting it as a sports tool in the meantime.
“If I patent it as a soccer tool, I can still find a way to get it used as a medical tool,” Day said. “It’s much easier getting it patented as a soccer tool.”
Day also plans to enter herself into future science fairs and continue inventing and researching.