GREENFIELD — Greenfield-Central High School students proudly displayed a year’s worth of hard work Tuesday at the school’s Project Lead the Way capstone night.
Capstone Night, held each May for Project Lead the Way students, welcomed dozens of friends and family members of students who came, ready to present year-long projects to the public.
They solved problems ranging from dry skin to lost remotes, all the result of months of research, experiments and tweaking their prototypes.
Project Lead the Way is a national program that provides students hands-on experience in engineering and science disciplines. At Greenfield-Central, PLTW students enroll in the school’s engineering or bio-medical academy, depending on their interests. As part of their capstone course, PLTW students are instructed to identify a problem and research a way to solve it.
It’s a project that takes them the better part of the school year.
For some students, that involves designing and building an actual model of a product. For others, the project is more research-based and is presented primarily through a poster explaining their findings.
For Brenden Gill, the project started with a sleepy drive home from Florida last October at the end of fall break. Gill, 18, found it hard to stay awake, and when he finally made it home, he learned he wasn’t the only one; two other friends making similar cross-country trips had gotten into traffic accidents. One had even totaled his car.
“I did more research, and it’s a big problem across America,” he said.
Gill hoped to implement the steering wheel with technology that would measure a person’s heart beat. If it began to slow, indicating a driver who was drifting off, the system would alert the driver.
He did numerous experiments on friends and family members, hooking them up to heart monitors and watching what happened as they fell asleep.
What he discovered disappointed him. A person’s heart rate does not fall quickly enough at the moment of sleep to be useful in the case of a driver dozing off at the wheel.
But just because a student doesn’t find the solution they hoped doesn’t mean their project was a failure, said Angie Crumlin, who teaches the capstone course for engineering students.
Setbacks are part of the learning process, Crumlin said. Were the course to last longer than the school year, students would go on to tweak their methods further in hopes of finding an answer to the problem.
“That’s the twist on it – let’s just look for the next feasible way,” Crumlin said.
Gill is headed to Indiana University in the fall and hopes to eventually pursue a career in the medical field. While he was disappointed that he wasn’t able to design a workable prototype for capstone night, he recognizes that some of the skills he learned through the process are ones that will help him long after the class is over.
“It taught me how to do research on my own; it taught me how to improve my ability to conduct experiments,” he said.
Some students went into the community in hopes of finding a problem to fix. Others looked no further than their own experiences.
Sarah Zornes, a member of the G-C swim team, sought to solve a problem she and her teammates have been battling for years.
As a swimmer, Zornes is constantly exposed to chlorine, which damages her skin and leaves it dry and itchy. For her project, she sought to develop the best moisturizer possible to restore her skin to silky smoothness.
She started by testing 10 name-brand lotions, then comparing each lotion’s effectiveness and studying the ingredients.
Zornes’ own formula combined African Shea butter, all-natural beeswax, coconut and vitamin E oils. Zornes was pleased with the result. When she puts on the product before getting into the pool, the water beads on top of her skin instead of absorbing into it.
“It’s like a body butter consistency but it does create a barrier for your skin,” she said.
Zornes has high hopes for her project’s future.
“I’ll probably run a couple more tests just to make sure it works for everyone, and hopefully, in the next few years, I can get it marketed and start selling it,” she said.
After the students researched their projects and developed prototypes, industry professionals were invited to evaluate their work.
Students presented their projects before a panel, which gave them the opportunity to practice public speaking and also the chance to network with professionals in the field.
That interaction is one of the program’s highlights, Principal Steve Bryant said.
“I think the connection the teachers make sure they have with people in the business, … mentoring them, I think that’s key,” he said.