The 60th annual Orange County Science and Engineering Fair was held on April 21-26, 2015 in Costa Mesa. Since 1955, the OCSEF has provided a forum for middle and high school students to exhibit their skills in science. This year’s science and engineering fair covered topics ranging from micro and cell biology and behavioral sciences to aerodynamics and thermo-physics. In both the junior and senior categories, there were many interesting and innovative projects.
To create a science fair project, a student picks a topic in which he or she is interested and wants to explore, and then poses a scientific question. After creating the question, the student develops a hypothesis, performs a series of experiments with an independent and dependent variable, and finally comes to a conclusion that either proves or disproves his or her hypothesis. Most students start their projects within their middle or high school, and if their project wins an award at the school level, they can go onto their county fair. If they then win a first, second or third place award at the county level, they continue on to state. Students can also win awards through Broadcom Masters, and the International Science Fair. Judging for these projects is based on creativity, scientific thought, thoroughness, skill, and clarity.
Nilay Mehta, a junior at Irvine High, entered the fair under the electricity and electronics category, with with the open source InMoov hand and prosthetic software he developed. Nilay, after reading about a newly developed prosthetic hand in Popular Science that was selling for $52,000, decided that he could make a prosthetic with equal effectiveness and efficiency, but one that would cost only a fraction of the $52,000 cost of a current prosthetic. In the summer of 2014, Nilay began developing the project, and started the process of actually assembling the prosthetic in November. Using electromyography and voice control, Nilay programmed the hand to identify voice commands and to perform basic functions, grasping an object or pointing at something as directed by its user. "You can say 'spoon' and the hand will make a shape that will be able to hold a spoon," Nilay said. The hand can also accept other voice commands like "pinch" and "grab" along with other hand gestures. Nilay managed the cost of the prosthetic through the reduction of unnecessary motors. One example is in the wrist of the prosthetic. Nilay was able to leverage the wrist to assist it in hinging and maneuvering instead of the use of a motor. Nilay noted that the hands use was especially useful for children: "For kids who are growing, they have to change their prosthetics every six to eight months.”
Nilay’s final project ended up costing only $260, and he is currently focusing on reducing his footprint, and developing a new prosthetic hand that will cost about $300 to assemble.When asked what his next steps would be, Nilay said "I'm done with the software … I’d like to focus on a new design for the hand. Hopefully I can test it on an amputee." Overall, Nilay had quite a bit of success with his project, as he won several awards: 1st place in his category; an award from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman foundation; Chapman University and The American Society of Engineers of Indian Origin; 3rd place in his category at Intel ISEF and the California State Fair. "It was all really new to me," Nilay commented when he went to the fair. "It was great to be surrounded with like-minded people. I was really nervous but getting there validated everything I did up until that point."Through curiosity and perseverance, Nilay and his peers are building a road to the future and improving the lives of ordinary people.