Getting A Grip On Botany

Glenelg Student's Robotic Tomato Picker Wins First At Science Fair

April 19, 2009|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,

Emily Schultheis never imagined that her love of tomatoes would translate into success in science.

But that's what happened when her parents challenged her to explore a way to make it easier to pick her favorite fruit.

"Ever since I was little, I liked to eat tomatoes," the 15-year-old sophomore at Glenelg High School said. "It was more fun to eat them than to pick them."

Two years ago, Schultheis began working on a way to pick tomatoes using robotics. Her research has evolved into the award-winning project with a tongue-twister of a title: "Optical Feedback Improves the Accuracy of an Autonomous Robotic Arm That Will Pick Ripe Tomatoes."

Schultheis was the top overall finisher in the physical sciences division at the 54th annual Baltimore Science Fair held at Towson University last month.

She and Miera Armstead, a student at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, will represent the Baltimore area at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Reno, Nev., in May.

"I'm excited but also humbled that I have the opportunity to represent my school and my region," she said. "I just hope I can represent as well as possible."

Howard County students have dominated the local competition. Since 1999, 15 of the 22 overall winners have been from Howard County high schools.

Schultheis is the third student from Glenelg High to win the distinction.

The bulk of her project is focused on developing software, she said.

"I don't have a hand at this point," she said, referring to a functioning robotic arm. She expects to complete the project by the time she graduates in 2011.

Schultheis said her greatest help in the research has been Charles Ashcrasp, who heads the independent research program at Glenelg.

"He's helped me contact professionals in the field that have helped me," she said.

Schultheis also credits her parents for helping purchase materials, and her brother for assisting her with the tools needed to construct physical components for her research.

Schultheis said it's still too early to know what professional career she will pursue in college.

"I would like to do something with science, engineering and medicine," she said.

"I do love science. But I also love creative writing, and debate," she said. "It seems that I've had the most success with science so far."

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