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WEST BANK: Young Palestinian inventors head to California science fair

April 28, 2010 | 10:40 am

Askar

Aseel Shaar, Nor Arda and Aseel Abu Leil are 14-year-old ninth-graders at the United Nations-run Askar Girls School in Nablus, a West Bank city. The trio is headed to California to exhibit their invention, an electronic cane for the blind, at a science fair.

The wooden cane, which has sensors that produce different sounds when the person using it approaches foreign objects on a road, will be shown in May at Intel's Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose.

"We wanted to do something to help blind people avoid obstacles in their way," Shaar said. "We came up with the idea in October to present it at the Palestinian Science and Technology Exhibition."

With the help of their science and technology teacher, Jamileh Khalid, the three succeeded within six months to build the cane, their first-ever invention. It was selected from among 52 projects presented at the Palestinean exhibition. It was then selected from among three projects to be exhibited at the San Jose event.

"The most important thing in the cane is the sensor," Shaar. "It has electronic devices that buzz different sounds to help a blind person understand that there are stairs in front of him or a water puddle or any foreign body that may cause him to stumble."

The cane was tested on blind subjects, Khalid said. "Some said it was too heavy, so the girls worked on making it lighter. We introduced improvements until everyone in the end approved it."

The students hope their invention, which is going to compete against inventions from students all over the world, will nab Intel's $50,000 first prize.

Intel said it would pay travel fees as well as room and board for two members of the team, and there was concern that one of the young inventors would not have the chance to make the trip. Fortunately, staff at the West Bank branch of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which runs Askar and many other schools in the region, came to the rescue. They contributed money, making it possible for all three girls to attend. Their teacher is traveling with them, at her own expense.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

Photo: The three ninth-grade friends and inventors. Credit: UNRWA

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