Catalyst InvenTeam is based at the Science House on North Carolina State University’s campus in Raleigh. Science House is a nonprofit which promotes STEM education throughout the state. Catalyst was founded in 2015 and funded through a grant from the Biogen Foundation. Our program currently has 22 high school students with disabilities from 20 high schools from across North Carolina. It is a week long summer program and with additional Saturday sessions during the school year. Twelve students from Catalyst chose to participate in the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. We were very happy to have won this very competitive competition.
Our winning proposal is mat for cows. It is a screening tool to determine if they are lame. The inspiration for this invention came from learning about cows during the program held last summer. We worked with the North Carolina State University Veterinarian School and Animal Science Department and learned about cow anatomy and health issues. We even felt what is to be a cow by walking through a milking station, fly vacuum, and pastures. We got to experience everything from body painting a cow, learned about pasture ecology, dug through cow manure to find dung beetles, spent time at a research farm, and learned how farms are managed. Our team, learned in depth about dairy cattle management and issue farmers face.
That summer we completed our first mini-research project. We made a device to measure cow respiration as it correlates to stress levels. After a field test of that device, we decided to change our focus to lameness. Lameness in dairy cows is a major health issue that impacts their health, dairy production, and the farmer’s bottom line. Cows try to conceal their lameness so it is hard to tell if it is lame or in the beginning stages of lameness. Our device is a mat that cows will stand on that will measure if a cow is lame and send a message to the famer through an app. We have had wonderful technical help and mentoring from both North Carolina State University professors and students. They have helped us learn needed skills to build our invention. We are currently working on learning how to program using Arduinos, soldering circuits, and designing our sensor.
In addition to being inventors we are also advocates. One of the goals of the team is to let other students with disabilities to know they can shine too. Many of the most famous inventors and scientists had disabilities, yet the group as a whole are underrepresented in STEM Careers. Catalyst InvenTeam met with Governor Pat McCrory to advocate for changes in STEM Education and share what they’ve done through the program. We also were able to contact other local politicians to share our experiences. The Catalyst InvenTeam even received a letter of support from President Obama! We have received great community support and hope you will follow us on Facebook at Catalyst InvenTeam or Twitter at CatalystNCows.