Smithtown High School West was one of just 13 high schools nationwide to be selected as an InvenTeam this year. As an award winner, Smithtown High School West will receive a grant for $10,000 by Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam® to create their invention, a personal space monitor to help autistic children improve their social interactions.

InvenTeams are teams of high school students, teachers and mentors that receive grants to invent technological solutions to real-world problems. This initiative of the Lemelson-MIT Program aims to inspire a new generation of inventors. “The InvenTeams program represents the future,” said Leigh Estabrooks, invention education officer from the Lemelson-MIT Program.

“We place an emphasis on STEM-focused projects to develop interest in these fields among youth. With InvenTeams, our primary goal is to foster high school students’ passion for invention, in turn inspiring them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering or math,” she added.

Led by Smithtown High School West science research teacher Dr. Joanne Figueiredo, the application process began last spring. She worked with her team of students – Sinead Doyle, Jensen Herbst, Liza Lleshaj, Rehan Mian, Tyler Nagosky, Patrick Noto, Eric Pentecoste, Madeline Raeihle and Aaquib Syed – during the summer to prepare the final proposal. A panel of judges composed of educators, researchers, staff and alumni from MIT, as well as representatives from industry and former Lemelson-MIT Award winners, assembled virtually this fall and selected this year’s InvenTeam grantees.

Autism Spectrum Disorder affects approximately one in every 59 children in the United States. “These children sometimes exhibit difficulties understanding the idea of interpersonal space,” said Dr. Figueiredo. “Our invention, the Personal Distance Monitor (PDM), is a cost-effective solution to this problem. It uses an IR sensor to alert the user when they are getting too close to another person. It also reports to an app that can help a teacher or parent to monitor progress.”

The Smithtown High School West InvenTeam will also work with Glen Meyerowitz, a graduate student at UCLA and former engineer at SpaceX, who will guide the students through the development of their invention.

“This is a remarkable group of students who have come together to solve an important problem faced by their peers in our school and other students across the country; we are eager to support them,” said Principal John Coady.

During the next nine months, the Smithtown High School West InvenTeam will develop its PDM. The team will build a working prototype of their invention that is showcased at a technical review within the local community in February, and then again as a final prototype at EurekaFest, an invention celebration in June 2021.

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