Making the Grade: Students form team to combat real-world problem

It started with a story. Last year, James Na, a senior at Chattahoochee High in Johns Creek, heard a friend’s tale about the difficulties his grandmother was having. “[She uses a wheelchair and] lives in India where the infrastructure is not good. The roads get muddy and there are no ramps,” he said.

Na and some friends came up with the idea of a device that empowers a wheelchair to handle all types of tough challenges, including stairs. A small-scale model of the device took first place in the Fulton County tech competition last year. “But we didn’t want to let the idea go,” said Na.

And as more of his friends learned about the idea and the good it could do, they volunteered their efforts. Soon a team of nine was working on a bigger model. But they needed funding to do it, and when they discovered the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam grants, they wanted to apply.

“This was not my finding a grant online and then finding some students to work on something,” said the team sponsor, Lin-Chiou Lee, the schools’ media and educational technology specialist. “They are a group of nine students who initiated this and came to be with a wonderful invention that would solve a real-life problem. And it’s a something close to their hearts since they know it’s helping someone’s family member.” From hundreds of applications, the InvenTeam grants award up to £10,000 for an invention that solves an identifiable problem.

The Chattahoochee crew was one of just 15 in the country awarded funds to bring to life their design for an All-Terrain Accessibility Transport Robotic Wheelchair. “Without the grant, we would have been out of pocket,” said senior Akhi Sadhu. “We already were using some parts from our robotics team, but we wanted to use customer parts and materials to make a full-scale model.” The device has rubber treads and a stabilization system that, when attached to a wheelchair, give a smooth ride and the ability to go up and down stairs.

“Climbing stairs is a pretty large feat,” said senior Quentin Thernize, who has already been accepted into MIT’s chemical engineering program for the fall term. “We’ve used aspects of robotics and always had to consider the most affordable options compatible with multiple systems.” Thernize added the project has given his peers a chance to engage in all aspects of an invention, from concept and computer drawings to actual creation. “We’ve learned about marketing and getting components, and I’ve learned a lot about Excel,” he said. “It’s all been part of a great experience.”

The student team has devoted hours stolen from lunch breaks and after-hours free time to put the project together. “Since we started on this last October, we’ve spent almost all of our lunch periods in the media center,” said Na. “We’ve had meetings every Thursday after school and on Saturdays. We also met during the winter.

Yes, we’ve devoted a lot of time to this project.” The next step is taking the project to the InvenTeam showcase at MIT at the end of April. The team is working to raise funds to get themselves and their design to Boston.

As part of that effort, and to let the community hear about the project first-hand, the students are hosting an event to share the story and the details about their device. But it’s not just about showcasing their idea, said team member Allison Guerrero. “Our beneficiary is the reason we’re designing this wheelchair,” she said. “When I heard about this invention that could help people with arthritis, it really drew my attention.

That’s why I was drawn to the project.” If you go: Chattahoochee High InvenTeam is hosting a fundraiser to compete in a design challenge in Boston.

The students will share the story of how the invention came to be and the details about their device. When: 6:30 p.m. Feb.


Where: Chattahoochee High School, 5230 Taylor Road, Johns Creek

Connect with the Chattahoochee High InvenTeam:

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