Syamantak Payra and Kavita Selva have come a long way from putting raisins in soda to see how many can float and comparing different cleaning sprays to see which works best on carpet.
That was the first time the two budding science enthusiasts delved into the scientific process – Syamantak was in first grade and Kavita was in fourth grade, both their first years at Clear Creek ISD.
Today, the two science whiz kids are making a name for themselves across the region, country and internationally where they both brought home accolades from the International Science and Engineering Fair.
The International Science and Engineering Fair is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition for grades 9-12. About 1,700 high school students from more than 75 countries, regions and territories come together each year to showcase their independent research as they compete for about $4 million in prizes.
At the international fair, Syamantak, a junior at Clear Brook High School, received one of two Intel Foundation Young Scientist Awards of $50,000 for developing a low-cost electronically aided knee brace that allows a person with a weakened leg to walk more naturally.
He was inspired to find a solution to help the more than 6 million people in the U.S. who lack leg muscle function due to illness like multiple sclerosis, spinal injury or polio after visiting with a family friend crippled by polio.
“I initially wanted to help him buy a new brace,” Syamantak said.
Instead, he reinvented it.
What Syamantak has done is devised a retrofit for an already existing brace, which is a prototype using an electronic sensor, similar to the tilt sensor on many smartphones, to detect the walking gait, bend the knee for the patient and give him a more normal gait.
His device is the first of its kind and he created it at a fraction of the cost. To date, the only comparable state-of-the-art device is $100,000 and not covered by insurance.
Syamantak’s retrofit is made up of $500 of electronics, he said.
Now, the family friend, who suffered from chronic back pain, went from an abnormal gait to as close-to-a-normal walk as he has ever been in his life.
“An inexpensive device like this can have a huge impact,” Syamantak said. “It’s the spirit of innovation – it directly impacts people in their everyday lives.”
Kavita found her inspiration after learning about the impending global shortage of metals and elements used in magnets called rare earths.
Magnets are essential to many modern technologies such as motors and wind turbines. So, she set out to create a magnet which didn’t rely solely on rare earths, she said.
“We could improve economics of this industry as a whole,” Kavita said.
Rare earths, also known as “technology metals,” according to the US Department of Energy, are what make possible the high tech world we live in today. Rare earths are responsible for the miniaturization of electronics, the enabling of green energies and medical technologies.
By trying different types of superconductor tapes and various configurations to stack them, she was able to find a way to create a strong magnet containing a very small amount of rare earths.
Kavita’s almost four years of research and experimentation resulted in the design a superconductor that uses only a small amount of rare-earth materials to efficiently provide the manufacturers of electric cars and wind turbines with the magnets they need for the motors.
The spirit of innovation
Syamantak and Kavita’s scientific discoveries goes to show how many different aspects of learning science fair can include, said Clear Creek ISD Board President Dr. Laura Dupont.
“Everything from math, science, English and even theater,” Dupont said. “It’s truly amazing.”
Syamantak and Kavita both credit the exceptional teachers they’ve had the chance to work with, such as Brenda Pinchbeck at Clear Lake High School and Alaina Garza at Clear Brook High School for instilling in them a love and passion for science.