Life-saving technology on a watch Ellicott City boys' idea wins regional award

March 20, 1998|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Your wristwatch could someday save your life -- at least that's what four visionary Ellicott City sixth-graders think.

Say you're critically injured in a car accident. The watch would transmit an emergency signal to a nearby hospital, take your vital signs and send them to your doctor and to the ambulance on its way to pick you up.

The idea, called MedWatch, has won Bobby Albin, Nirav Parekh, Chris Perks and Andrew White of Mayfield Woods Middle School kudos in a national contest sponsored by Toshiba. This month, ** theirs was named the best idea for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in five states.

They join a team from Centennial High School as regional winners, giving Howard County two of the contest's 48 semifinalists, chosen from among the 4,900 ideas submitted by teams that included more than 17,000 students.

Yesterday, at a ceremony at Mayfield Woods, the four winners donned suits and ties to receive certificates from Toshiba and tell their schoolmates about MedWatch, which they described as a high-tech device that, if developed, would use computer chips and satellites to help keep people healthy.

The Centennial team -- Ariel C. Altman and Joseph L. Yeh -- aided by Joseph's brother, Eric, who is in seventh grade -- also won for a health-related idea, a computer called Vision Master 2020 that would analyze the eye surface and correct vision instantly, said Ed Rohde, science department chairman at Centennial.

In the six years of the Toshiba Exploravision contest, hundreds of Rohde's students have submitted ideas, but none has been honored -- until now, he said.

"I've had Westinghouse finalists and Presidential Science Award winners, but never this," he said. "This one is very, very hard to win."

Similarly, MedWatch is the first winning entry of some 45 ideas submitted in three years by students of Lynn Birdsong, the sixth-grade science teacher of Gifted and Talented students at Mayfield Woods.

"This is very thrilling," she said, beaming with pride as her students prepared to make their presentation.

The boys agreed.

"I was really amazed that we won," Bobby said.

L Added Chris, "I didn't think we were going to get that far."

For making it to the semifinals, students are awarded $100 each and $500 per team to produce a video depicting their idea.

The video is due April 21, and the awards are announced in June, before an awards ceremony in Washington. There, Toshiba will award four first prizes worth $10,000 in savings bonds for each student. Students on eight second-place teams each will get $5,000 in savings bonds.

The contest, administered by the National Science Teachers Association in Arlington, Va., routinely draws a wide range of entries, including tools to help blind people, said Pamela Riley of NSTA.

The best entries are inspired by everyday experiences: In previous years, one team planned a Christmas tree star that would extinguish fires; another envisioned a device that would enable police to disable car engines and capture criminals.

"We look for creativity, feasibility and scientific accuracy," Riley said, adding that several winners have been approached by manufacturers who want to market the products. None has been created, but several are in the works, she said.

The Mayfield Woods idea started at the Perkses' kitchen table. The boys, who are longtime friends and live in the same neighborhood, researched the history and mechanisms of how clocks work and came up with MedWatch.

If created, such a device would have a panic button and four sensors touching the skin to monitor pulse, breathing, body temperature and blood pressure. It also would have a computer chip to store health data.

"That way," according to the report the boys submitted, "if you had a heart attack, all your vital signs prior to your heart attack would be available for the doctor to assess."

If made today, they said, a MedWatch would be the size of a cellular phone. But, with advances in miniaturization, the device could be the size of a wristwatch.

Although their parents give the team credit for the work, the adults acknowledge that they helped. The four sets of moms and dads include three engineers -- including Kem White of the Applied Physics Laboratory in Fulton, who was the boys' community adviser -- one physical therapist and an insurance vTC broker with a client who markets a similar, less-sophisticated, wristwatch device.

Although their classmates at Mayfield Woods were impressed by the MedWatch idea, many were more impressed by the $100 prize.

"They keep asking us for money," Nirav said.

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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