By: Arushi Atluri
On Monday, April 22, Hopkins Junior High School eighth-grader Jessika Baral presented her original vision-enhancing invention at the third annual White House Science Fair. She, along with 100 other middle-school and high-school students, was personally invited by the White House to showcase her project to President Barack Obama, his science advisors, members of Congress, and leading science dignitaries from across the country. With the event, the White House hopes to demonstrate Obama’s vision for an expansive future for science, technology, education, and math (STEM) education.
For her project, Baral used her engineering skills to create a contraption that helps strengthen the eye muscles and improve peripheral vision. She noticed that often, among her friends and family members, many strained to read the small, crammed text on iPhones and iPads; as a result, she decided to find a new, entertaining way to exercise and strengthen the eyes. Her product consists of a crescent-shaped foam board with LED lights surrounding the outside border, and is intended to be worn like headgear. Baral programmed the LED lights to move from side to side and the eyes are subsequently supposed to follow the lights; as they do so, they are trained to look in different directions, which increases muscle endurance. After testing the product on 19 subjects, Baral found that their peripheral vision had improved by as much as 87 percent.
Baral first gained recognition for her creation at a Society for Science & the Public (SSP) fair, and was then nominated to participate in the Broadcom Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars (MASTERS) Science Fair. Nominees for this competition have to complete an application explaining how their science project embraces STEM principles. After all applications are submitted, 300 students are chosen to be semifinalists, and from this pool, 30 are selected to be finalists. In October 2012, through the Broadcom MASTERS program, Baral received $10,000 and the Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation, an award given in spirit of the radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi to students who show vision and promise as an innovator, and who display aptitude and skill in applied electrical engineering concepts.
With her prize money, Baral plans to patent her invention and to manufacture 200 more of her machines to send to high schools across the state. She also plans to further her research about eye problems by checking on participants to see if their vision has improved in the past year. In the future, Baral wants to pursue a career in science and research, and encourages students to stay focused, keep experimenting, and to always be curious.