Brain surgery, science and education

As a pediatric neurosurgeon, neuroscientist, and educator, I come across many interesting bits of information and wonderful people. I will try to share some of this with you here. While the site draws heavily from my experiences as the Campagna Chair of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Oregon Health & Science University, and head of neurosurgery at Doernbecher Children's Hospital, this is a personal blog. My thanks to my wonderful OHSU colleagues, who share this exciting and rewarding work with me.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Surpassing Your Elders

I had the pleasure in January of spending the day in Hillsboro at the Intel Lego Robotics Championships for the State of Oregon. I was there to watch my son’s team (Team Sigma) compete in the finals after winning runner up at their regional competition the month before.

Lego Robotics is a terrific program for junior high school students, which marries robot design, programming and competition, to team work on a major, innovative, and creative project using engineering skills, and focused on the real world. This year, the project theme focused on the health of the elderly, with the goal of proposing real solutions for elder health and safety.

My son’s team visited a local nursing home, got to know some of the residents and staff, and found about one very serious problems for the elderly: walker falls. People dependent on walkers to get around can sometimes lose control of the walker and still suffer a fall, sometimes with devastating and life altering hip or other injuries. Ryan and his friends, all on their own, looked over various walker models, learned about the most common fall mechanisms, and engineered a solution. They then went a few steps farther, drawing a CAD diagram (using fee software they found online), buying the necessary parts for a prototype, and building it!

I was privileged to be in the room with their coach in Hillsboro when they demonstrated their prototype and project design boards to a panel of engineering judges at the competition (see the photo below). Listening to them present I thought I was watching a group of young engineers, not my own 13-year old son and his friends. The judges were rapt and pushed them with tough questions. Without any ability for help from coach or parent, they confidently answered everything, using expertise (and some vocabulary) that I do not even possess. I was stunned. For the first time as a parent, I most clearly understood some of the things my son can do that I can’t, and never will be able to.

Ryan’s team also won rave reviews from teamwork judges, and robotics judges, as well as had some great runs on the robot competition tables.

Karen and I sat on our hands with anxiety, along with the parents of over 80 other teams, as the statewide awards were announced. No matter how impressed I had been, I started to give up hope after Team Sigma failed to earn first place or runner up in any of the category awards (teamwork, design, programming, etc.). As the overall 3rd place in Oregon award went by, I started to rehearse in my head a condolences and encouragement talk to have with my son. Again, it shows how little I know! In second place in Oregon – Team Sigma! I will never forget the looks on the faces of this terrific team.

Well done!

Team Sigma Accepts 2nd Place in Oregon Trophy at Intel Lego Robotics

Team Sigma Demonstrating Project to Judges