Christopher Columbus Awards: News

Embargoed until 5 P.M. EDT
News — October 6, 1998

SP PR 98-03
Media contact:  Bill Line  (703) 306-1070  wline@nsf.gov
Program contact:  Susan Chase  (703) 306-1070  schase@nsf.gov

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Las Vegas Team Presents Winning National Science and Technology Achievement Award

Swing-set Safety Device Highlights Students' Project

Four students and their teacher from Hyde Park Middle School in Las Vegas, first place winners of a national science achievement competition that encourages critical thinking, creativity, scientific accuracy and problem-solving, present their project to members of Congress and members of the Washington-based science and technology community.

The Las Vegas students competed against over 300 other student teams in the national Bayer/NSF Award. Three winning teams were chosen from semifinalists in each of 10 regions. The Las Vegas team won $20,000 in savings bonds, an all-expense paid trip for finals week to Walt Disney World® and attendance at the Christopher Columbus Academy.

The winning entry came from a concern about playground safety. Noting that community leaders' solution to swing set accidents was to remove the equipment, the Las Vegas team invented a device they call "The Back Belt," a safety harness that is clamped onto swings to prevent backward falls.

"Swing sets are being removed in our community to prevent injuries," explained Lindsey Bean, 14, of Las Vegas, "but we found a better way to protect kids and still let them enjoy the fun of swings.

Bean, along with Lyndsey Franks, 13, Ashley Berg, 14, Derek Smoot, 13, and coach Tom Bostic designed the "Back Belt," a simple piece of equipment with the potential to help prevent the more than 75,000 swing-related injuries reported each year in America. These injuries and their related legal liability are causing cities like Las Vegas to remove swings from public playgrounds.

"The 'Back Belt' is an elegant, simple solution to a significant problem," says Art Fry, the 3M scientist who invented the Post-It Note and a Bayer/NSF Award judge. "This is what innovation is all about."

"Kids often see problems and solutions that adults do not," said Julia Moore of the National Science Foundation, a Bayer/NSF Award sponsor. "The Bayer/NSF Award recognizes that these students' work has impact in their local community, and that by working together, they have the power to use science and engineering to turn things around."

The other winning teams are from Cold Spring Harbor Junior High, Cold Spring Harbor NY (2nd place) and from Walden Middle School, Atlanta, GA (3rd place). The Walden Middle School students also were awarded the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant, designed to be seed money to help the team bring to reality its idea of providing homeless and transient classmates with a clearinghouse to make easy access to the students' medical and school records, vital information that is often misplaced or lost.

"The Bayer/NSF Award turns kids onto science and shows them the important connection between science and society," explained Sande Deitch, director of the Bayer Corporation's Making Science Make Sense program, a corporate initiative supporting hands-on, inquiry-based science education and promoting science literacy.

"This competition is based upon the idea that all children have the potential to succeed and to become community leaders," added Rosalyn Queen, chairperson of the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation.

The program specifically targets a critical age range in science education. Studies indicate that middle school is the point at which U.S. students begin to fall behind their peers around the world in science and mathematics achievement.

A broad range of students was involved in this year's competition, with 60% of this year's entrants girls and 30% minorities.

The Bayer Corporation, the National Science Foundation, the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation and Discover Magazine are sponsors of the annual Bayer/NSF Award.