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How Can I Help?

Eighth graders used engineering to help people who are facing challenges.

In a classroom, a teacher and student look at a computer as other students work at tables.

Karen Bolt/Fairfax County Public Schools

Rachel Carson Middle School teacher Mark Bolt challenges his students to engineer products that can help people.

A group of eighth graders came up with creative solutions to help family and friends who were facing challenges. And they used their engineering skills to do it. Teacher Mark Bolt calls this “engineering with empathy.”

Engineering with Empathy is a unit in Bolt’s engineering class at Rachel Carson Middle School in Herndon, Virginia. Empathy is the ability to notice and share in the feelings of others. Bolt says that engineers, who use science, math, and tools to come up with solutions to problems, need empathy.

“Engineers need to understand their users’ needs, and put themselves in the users’ shoes, in order to then build an effective solution,” Bolt explained in an article on the Fairfax County Public Schools website.

Bolt’s students did exactly this. Aasritha Duriseti saw her grandmother struggling to open a bottle cap and made a bottle opener that’s easy to grip. Roman Moreno-Hines noticed that his grandfather, who has arthritis, has trouble holding a coffee cup. He invented a robotic “third thumb” that holds onto the bottom of a mug.

Engineers go through a process to create, test, and then improve their inventions. When Rishab Nanduri made a back brace to help ease his dad’s back pain, his classmates suggested he improve it by adding foam material that could massage the wearer’s muscles.

According to the Washington Post, each device was adjusted several times as it was developed. Bolt says that when things don’t work as planned, it’s an opportunity to learn.

“If we want to do better, we have to have a chance to fail,” the teacher told the Washington Post.

Check out the slideshow to see some of the students’ inventions.

Karen Bolt/Fairfax County Public Schools

Did You Know?

Young Thomas Edison sits at a table and points to paper scraps with the names of failed inventions appearing and being crumpled above him

Brady-Handy Photograph Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-DIG-cwpbh-04044), © Kenishirotie/, varèche; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

When Thomas Edison was working on the light bulb, he and his team of inventors came up with thousands of ideas that failed when tested. 

In fact, many of Edison’s other ideas didn’t work out either.

Fashion for All

A woman with a cane and a man formally dressed in front of a backdrop that says Christian Siriano

Rachel Murray/Getty Images Entertainment

Actor Selma Blair (left) and designer Christian Siriano pose together at an event. Blair says she might want to work with Siriano on a line of adaptive clothing.

Actor Selma Blair was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2018. MS is a condition that can affect a person’s ability to move their body. Blair says that for her, MS makes it harder to put on clothing and makeup. She’s not alone. Many people with disabilities find that buttons, zippers, eye pencils, and other items can be challenging to use. That’s where adaptive products come in.

Adaptive fashion is a field in which clothes are engineered to be easier to put on and take off. For example, a designer might make a sweater that has a large opening for the neck or a jacket that closes with Velcro or magnets instead of buttons. 

Adaptive clothing has become increasingly available. Blair, who loves to use clothing to express herself, says she might want to create her own fashion line one day. She’s even thought about working on it with fashion designer Christian Siriano, who is a friend of hers.

“I would like to partner with someone like Christian Siriano on a line [of clothing] for everyone,” Blair told Harper’s Bazaar in 2019. “It can still be chic. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice style.” 

In 2022, Blair announced that she’s working with Guide Beauty on a line of makeup that’s easier to grip while using. Blair told Self she’s interested in beauty products that are “considerate and thoughtful to people’s experiences.”

Driving Innovation

Side by side portrait of a man and a set of patent illustrations for a three-way traffic signal

The Cleveland Press Collection, Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; Composite photo Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Inventor Garrett Morgan designed a three-way traffic signal. He received a patent for it in 1923.

Inventor Garrett Morgan noticed a problem with traffic and came up with a solution to fix it. In the 1920s, driving cars was still a fairly new thing, and there weren’t as many safety measures as there are now. Traffic signals had two settings: go and stop. There was nothing in between, leading to a lot of accidents as drivers hit the brakes without warning.

Morgan’s 1923 invention, a three-way traffic signal, paved the way for today’s green-yellow-red traffic lights.

That’s smart engineering.

Learn more at Britannica School!






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