Are you smarter than this fifth-grader?

Published 10:27 pm Monday, August 5, 2013

By William Scott


A local fifth-grader has placed first in a national contest with her essay on how robotic gloves are able to aid the rehabilitation of stroke victims.


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Ten-year-old Sydney Ricks wrote her essay for the Engineer Girl essay contest.

Sydney Ricks

Sydney Ricks

“How does the robotic glove work? It starts when a person has a blood clot that blocks the blood from reaching the brain. Brain cells die when the brain does not get its oxygen and nutrients,” Sydney wrote in her essay. “According to Discover Fit and Health Journal, 12 million cells die during each minute of blood loss. Every minute the brain does not get oxygen, the brain loses its ability to control the body’s movements. This can leave stroke survivors unable to move fingers, arms or legs.”

Each fall, the Engineer Girl website posts an essay topic for students from grades 3-12 to tackle. This year, the essay topic involved the treatment or intervention of heart disease, stroke, influenza, diarrhea or emphysema according to the website.

Students are separated into three grade levels, each with their own level of complexity and maximum length. Students in grades 3-5, like Sydney, are required to write no more than 500 words. Awards for first, second and third place are $500, $250 and $100, respectively.

“I like solving problems.” Sydney said of her interest in engineering. “I like putting puzzles together.”

This was not the first time Sydney had entered the contest. She participated in last year’s contest on engineered food and the manufacturing process, doing an essay on sandwich bread, but did not place.

Sydney decided to research strokes. After looking into the subject, Sydney learned of the robotic glove and how it is used in tandem with the video game “Guitar Hero” to help rehabilitate victims. With a tangential subject on video games, Sydney leapt at the opportunity to write about the robotic arm.

As far as the future goes, Sydney wants to look into biomedical engineering, which combines two fields of interest for her, dentistry and engineering. She plans to use the $500 reward to buy a laptop to help with research. She is a rising sixth-grade student at John Yeates Middle School this year.

Sydney entered the contest both times after her mother, Karen Ricks, showed her the contest website. The young girl wanted to see how well she would do and if she could place in the top three. The $500 award for first place was a bonus incentive.

“When they do career days, they don’t really show what an engineer does. They show the more typical careers like doctors, policemen and firemen,” Karen Ricks said.  “So I challenged her to do the essay contest as a way to learn about other career opportunities.”

EngineerGirl, launched in 2001, is a site made to provide information of career opportunities in the field of engineering to young girls, according to the website. The website is a service of the National Academy of Engineering and is sponsored by Lockheed Martin.