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Loomis seventh-graders earn regional science prize

By: Toni Arnes, Loomis News Correspondent
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Tasked with the challenge to imagine ideas for future technologies, a team of Loomis Grammar School seventh-graders explored solutions to brain disorders and in doing so earned a regional science competition title.

The team, made up of students Dezma Bunio, Leahloni Hulse, Megan Kelley and Gavin Thompson, won the regional ExploraVision contest sponsored by Toshiba and the National Science Teachers Association for its ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactive disorder) Regulator and Stimulator project. Each team member receives a Toshiba High Definition camcorder, a plaque and a certificate. The school has been awarded a Toshiba laptop.

"We congratulate the regional winning teams for their unique and innovative solutions to real-world problems and commend all the teachers and mentors for their dedication, enthusiasm and encouragement of their students to explore science," said Dr. David Evans, National Science Teachers Association executive director.

The team will go on to compete at the national level, where the first-place team will win a $10,000 U.S. Savings Bond and the second place team a $5,000 savings bond.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a common behavioral disorder that affects an estimated three to 10 percent of youth, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The regulator the students designed would hypothetically work by placing flexible nano-sized sensors in the frontal brain cortex to regulate the brains' neurotransmitters that cause the symptoms of ADHD. The device would be self-powered, using specially fabricated mitochondria to generate the energy needed for continuous operation.

Teacher and team coach Kristine Sohrakoff said the group of advanced students devised their project by scouring through science magazines until images of brains grabbed their attention. She said magazine articles about brain disorders raised questions. The students then refined their research to learn about ADHD and looked up causes. They learned that many people with the disorder end up in jail or flunk out of school.

"It was an eye-opener for the students," Sohrakoff said.

Both the coaches and students admit the project was very challenging. The team completed a 10-page research paper and created a web page, with the help of mentor teacher Melissa McCormick.

They spent many hours working on their project during lunch and after school. Each student brought their unique personalities to the endeavor.

Described by teammates as “task-driven and responsible,” Leahloni said she learned a lot about ADHD and will be more sensitive to those with the disorder.

Gavin's teammates described him as “the grammar king” and good at creating bibliographies. He persistently designed the prototype for the ADHD Regulator and Stimulator. He said he fell behind a couple of times on other projects, but said, "It all worked out in the end."

Megan was described as “fun,” and made the project interesting, according to Dezma. Part of Megan’s contribution was writing, but she said, "I did a lot of editing."

Dezma was called “hard-working” and realized the project’s technology could help her because she said she is easily distracted.

The project was chosen because the team said they have witnessed the effects of ADHD on fellow students and wanted to help them.

The ADHD Regulator and Stimulator is seen as a potential treatment in 20 years, but the project borrowed from and improved upon existing technology. Sohrakoff speculates that depending on how brain mapping advances, testing for the technology will be in place within the next five years. 

When asked about patenting their project, the group said, "Yeah, that would be really cool."