Home News Local News ‘Alien Arm’ lifts RHS students to victory

‘Alien Arm’ lifts RHS students to victory

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Roswell High School students prepare for their Dec. 12 presentation in the second-annual Governor’s STEM Challenge. Seniors Winnie Keller, Elebello Cordova; juniors Karen Avila and Breanna Sanchez; and sophomore Lainy Carlock were chosen among the challenge’s 18 winners with their solar-powered prosthetic hand. (Submitted Photo)

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Students create solar-powered prosthetic limb for Governor’s STEM Challenge

The Roswell High School team had to work remotely on their project for the Governor’s STEM Challenge and put it together in its final form on the day of the Dec. 12 presentation. (Submitted Photo)

Remote learning has presented challenges for students and teachers alike, but one group of students from Roswell High School worked through those hurdles and was rewarded by having their project chosen as one of the winners of the New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge this month.

The team of seniors, Winnie Keller and Elebello Cordova; juniors Karen Avila and Breanna Sanchez; and sophomore Lainy Carlock began working in August on their project, a solar-powered prosthetic limb that imitates the process of sending and receiving neural messages. They dubbed their project the “Roswell Alien Arm.” STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

The students were sponsored by RHS teachers Randy Lykins and Stephanie May.

A project from the New Mexico Military Institute also was chosen among the challenge’s 18 winning teams. That project will be covered in another article.

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Teams from 33 schools gave virtual presentations to judges from various New Mexico companies and organizations on Dec. 12.

The winning students each received a $500 scholarship.

The Roswell High team’s project was chosen by Deloitte, an international company with offices in Santa Fe that provides technology solutions for businesses, including the health care field.

“The topic of the challenge was to use one of New Mexico’s resources to help solve a problem, so we kind of were inspired by solar power,” Sanchez said.

“We also looked at what problems we see a lot, and because we’re real close to El Paso and they have the veterans hospital, we thought amputations are a real problem that need to be addressed,” Keller said.

The team chose their project at the start of the school year in August with the expectation they would return to their classrooms in October. Their plan was for each to conduct research on their aspect of the project during remote learning and then work together when in-person classes started.

“When that didn’t happen we had to figure out how to do it all remotely,” Sanchez said.

“We realized we picked a very physical project to do at a time where we couldn’t be seeing each other, and it was really difficult to do,” she said.

“It just created new hurdles, but the thing is, Coyotes — they’re good at hurdling,” RHS Principal Pillar Carrasco said, referring to the school’s mascot.

Carrasco said Lykins especially worked to find ways for the team to get their project done.

“He pushed me all along the way — can we bring in one kid at a time, can we meet outside, can they take these materials home,” Carrasco said.

The students also credited their teachers and Carrasco in their ability to get the project completed.

“We just had a lot of amazing support. Without Miss May, Mr. Lykins and Mr. Carrasco, none of this would have been anywhere near possible without them,” Keller said.

Each student worked on a different aspect of building the hand. Cordova worked on the electronics, Avila researched the medical aspect and did the three-dimensional printing. Carlock worked on a waterproofing method for the prosthetic. Sanchez worked on the solar power. Keller worked on the graphene.

“Graphene is the new super material, it’s the new silicon for Silicon Valley,” Keller said. “It’s just a singular layer of carbon atoms and it’s the strongest, lightest and best superconductor in the world.”

“So I worked on figuring out what graphene was, how to make it, how not to blow myself up while making it,” she said.

The transparent graphene was used to boost the power of the solar panels, waterproof the hand and increase its structural integrity, Keller said.

Sanchez said finding the right type of solar cells to use was also a challenge. She worked with Avila, who was creating the parts of the prosthetic with a 3-D printer, to make sure she got the right size of solar cell, and had to work with different companies to find the right type.

With the students not able to gather as a group, they had to pass the project around and put it together in its final form the day of the presentation for the challenge.

The students also had to put together a presentation package and a video of a five-minute “elevator pitch” for the virtual contest.

They found out later that day in a virtual meeting they had been selected.

Molina Health Care and Lovelace Health Systems also expressed interest in their project, asking questions during the presentation, Carlock said.

“Deloitte did not seem interested at all, they were quiet and didn’t ask many questions,” she said.

But the company’s representatives was one of the first judges to announce their selection.

“We just screamed,” Carlock said.

The team hopes to continue working on the project next semester with the company.

“They said they were interested in furthering our research and so we’re hoping that once … the press releases and all of the technical information between Deloitte and the STEM Challenge is figured out we can continue working with them,” Keller said.

“Mr. Lykins wants me and Elebello to get this published before our senior year ends, and honestly that would be pretty cool,” she said. “I think it would be amazing that if all this hard work we’ve done could actually materialize into helping because there’s definitely a lot of potential in how much it could help those who need it.”

Looking beyond this school year, Keller and Cordova plan to continue their education.

“After graduation, I plan on going into the engineering field, most likely materials engineering, and that may be genetic and then mechanical, those sort of fields,” Cordova said.

Keller said she plans to study biomedical engineering or cellular molecular biology with the goal of becoming an oncologist.

As for the other team members, they look forward to next year’s challenge.

Sanchez said next year the team might look at taking the prosthetic to the next level or find something that will act as a component with the project.

“To top this project, it’s going to be hard,” Avila said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.