Students from Elizabethtown High School advanced to the next stage of a national grant program, winning $10,000 to build their invention.
Elizabethtown High is one of 15 schools across the country to win $10,000 in grant funding through the Lemelson-MIT Program and the first from Kentucky to do so. The program seeks to inspire young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention, according to its website.
Students on Elizabethtown’s InvenTeam will use the money to build a personal safety monitor to prevent injuries and fatalities for workers and rescuers in confined spaces.
“I’m very excited, but a little nervous,” senior Emma Tompkins said. “It’s real, not an idea on paper. It’s a project we actually have to make work.”
The team will present its invention next June at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.
“We’re excited about the trip to Boston and getting to work,” she said.
Jeff Stone, an engineering teacher advising the students, said the project was motivated by the 1985 Radcliff sewer lift station tragedy in which four people died after being overcome by methane, a lethal but odorless gas. Two Hardin County Water District No. 1 employees were performing a routine inspection in a 35-foot shaft when they encountered the deadly fumes.
Sean Clinning, site leader for Dow Chemical Co., is helping students on the project along with representatives from Altec.
“What they have done is amazing,” he said. “If the product works and goes commercial, I’ll buy some.”
Clinning said working in confined spaces is dangerous and deaths occur in every industry.
“People die in confined spaces every year and the vast majority are completely avoidable,” he said.
About a dozen students taking Stone’s engineering capstone class are part of the team.
“The work has just started for you guys,” Stone told students Wednesday during a celebration of the grant announcement. “(The program) is adamant about you doing the work.”
At the start of the school year, students created an in-depth project proposal, detailing the idea, budget and marketing plans, among other aspects. Now, they’ll be charged with spending the $10,000 and building a prototype.
“We had a very good proposal,” Stone said. “Now we have to live up to it.”
Stone told students and their parents that working on weekends will be “unavoidable to get this pulled off.”
InvenTeams are located in 13 states, according to a news release. A panel of university professors, inventors, entrepreneurs, intellectual property lawyers, industry professionals and college students selected the invention projects.
Students proposed projects that address problems in their local community, affect family members and classmates or have a community connection, according to the release.
Other teams plan to invent a danger alert system for schools, a vital sign monitoring system for firefighters to prevent the risk of overexertion during rescues and an electromagnetic locking system for trash cans.
Stephanie Couch, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, said in the release she is excited by the students’ enthusiasm.
“Hands-on learning programs that reach young women and men to work on invention projects like the InvenTeam initiative ensure that we continue to develop the creative and inventive mindsets that prepare students for success in both their education and careers in a rapidly changing world,” she said.