Students display their spirit of innovation

High school student projects have always been an important part of helping teens learn innovation skills, but it’s not every day that the results garner interest from a group devoted to space exploration and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Two teams of students from Milken Community High School finished second in their respective categories while competing in the Conrad Foundation’s Spirit of Innovation Challenge this April at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, but their projects could still benefit the world one day.

One team, CRM Shielding, developed a design for a radiation shielding material that could bring us closer to traveling to Mars. The other team, Plus Prosthetics, developed a design for memory sensors that would give the users of prosthetics more control over their limbs. Both teams created the necessary business plans to develop and market their products, but did not produce the actual product.

The two teams competed for a first prize of $10,000 that would help them advance in research and development for their projects. The Spirit of Innovation Challenge encourages teens to combine their science, technology, engineering and math skills with creativity and entrepreneurship to develop innovative products and services.

CRM Shielding (Comprehensive Radiation and Micrometeoroid Shielding) took part in the aerospace and aviation division. Its members consist of now-graduated seniors Joshua Rusheen, Jake Davidson, Jonah Schatz and Jonathan Zur and incoming senior Milana Bochkur Dratver.

The team came up with its design after researching the limitations of space exploration. What it found to be of the one of the biggest obstacles was the lack of adequate protection from radiation and tiny meteoroid impacts.

“We started doing research into what we could do to protect against the radiation and the micrometeoroids, and we decided we wanted to create a shielding that could be multipurpose,” Rusheen said. “We wanted to be able to use it on space suits, space stations, space shuttles, rovers, satellites, basically anything that goes into space.”

The result was a multilayered material that was flexible, lightweight and reusable.

Joe Rothenberg, chairman of the advisory and review board of Inspiration Mars, which aims to send humans to Mars, approached the team and informed them that their material could help make a trip to the Red Planet possible by providing protection from solar flares.

Plus Prosthetics set out to find a way to improve prosthetic limbs when team members found that most veterans who have had amputations eventually choose not to use their prosthetics due to the lack of functionality. Plus Prosthetics developed a design for Wi-Fi-enabled pressure sensors that allowed its users to create preset levels of pressure that would allow the users to firmly grasp items without crushing them.

Competing in the health and nutrition division, the team is made up of incoming seniors Eli Patt, Joey Ben-Zvi and Alexander Mosch.

Its project caught the attention of former Department of Defense worker Britt Heisig, who forwarded the provisional patents for the department to review. Regardless of the competition’s rulings, Heisig indicated that he was interested in the team’s technology.

In an e-mail to the team, he wrote, “I believe that this product has enormous potential to make a fundamental difference in how we apply prosthetic solutions to amputees in this country, both in training and daily utilization, as well as in opening the door to an overall superior user experience that may one day make prosthetics use more intuitive through tactile feedback analogs.”

Both teams hold their own provisional patents for their technology, and both teams plan to continue working to advance their products. They have been speaking with private investors as well as looking into government grants to help bring their designs to life.