Fryeburg Academy Students Win 2nd Place at the 73rd Maine State Science Fair

On Saturday, March 23, senior Antonina "Tonia"  Zakorchemna and junior Artem Laptiev — both international resident students from Ukraine — participated in the 73rd Maine State Science Fair at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME. The annual fair is organized by the Jackson Laboratory and the Reach Program—a program of the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance.
The students’ project was the design of a braille e-reader and an Android app powered by Google Assistant: “We competed in the engineering and mechanics category with our project titled, “Developing a Low-Cost Braille Electronic Reader for the Blind,” says Tonia Zakorchemna ‘19. “Current braille e-readers are extremely expensive due to the specialized piezoelectric crystals used during production.  This makes e-readers unaffordable for the majority of customers in need. Artem and I used a new alternative technology called ‘stepper motors’ to build a functional braille e-reader prototype that maintained the same efficiency but reduced the cost of the hardware dramatically.”

Out of over 200 teams who entered, representing 50 different schools from both public and private institutions in grades 9-12, Zakorchemna and Laptiev placed 2nd place overall as well as capturing 2nd place in the engineering category. It was also the Academy's first appearance at the fair in over two decades, earning Fryeburg Academy a Reach Award that is given to newly participating schools for outstanding entry.

The idea for the prototype initially began last summer during a ‘makeathon’ event the two students attended, and the inspiration for the prototype came from a blind friend back in Ukraine. “We have a blind friend who told us a lot about the issues the blind are faced with in education and literacy,” continues Zakorchemna. “Artem and I had the idea to try and solve some of those issues and brainstormed the idea to design the prototype.”

Zakorchemna and Laptev's 2nd place win comes with an invitation for them and their science teacher and project mentor, James Wauer, for an all-expense paid trip to the 2019 International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix on May 12-19—one of the world’s largest international pre-college science competitions.

“Their success is the product of a great deal of hard work and a lot of lost sleep," concludes science teacher and mentor James Wauer. “I couldn't be prouder of what they have accomplished.”

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