OREGON, UNITED STATES – Anushka Naiknaware, an 8th grader from Portland has invented a new “smart bandage” that tells doctors when it needs to be changed. It’s an innovation that could speed the recovery of major wounds and reduce pain for patients.
Anushka’s bandage ensures an optimal environment for healing chronic wounds by monitoring the moisture in the dressing. Moisture is one of the key determining factors in how fast a chronic would heals. Allowing a doctor to monitor the status of the wound, without having to check or change bandages too frequently can further promote the healing process.
Anushka’s solution is to embed tiny monitors in the bandage to allow medical workers to “see” whether a dressing needs changing without disturbing the wound. She has achieved this by creating an ink out of biopolymer chitosan, (a naturally occurring polymer in crustacean shells that helps blood to clot) and carbon nanoparticles (to detect moisture levels). She can print out a conductive circuit by loading the ink into a normal inkjet printer cartridge. After hooking the circuit up to a small battery and passing a current through it, she can measure the resistance and get a reading of the moisture content.
Since the sensors are made out of conductive ink they are very inexpensive to manufacture and can be monitored wirelessly via a phone or other device.
Awarded the Lego Education Builder Award at the 2016 Google Science Fair has provided Anushka with a $15000 college scholarship, a trip to Lego headquarters in Denmark and a year of entrepreneurship mentoring with a Lego executive to get the project into production.
While winning one of the top awards at the prestigious global science fair was thrilling, Anushka says the best moment for her was realising that her invention could work in the real world:
That moment when you finally realize, wait, I’m a 13-year-old and I finally made something that can change the entire world — that was definitely, like, the best moment for me.
Anushka’s interest in science started when she was 3 or 4 years old and her parents would take her to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. She loved all the exhibits there, but the Chemistry Lab was a particular favourite. This fuelled an interest in nanoparticles, which she began researching in fourth grade, and became the foundation of her submission to the Google Science Fair.
The success of her invention is huge, with potential military applications to help injured soldiers rapidly recover in a cost effective manner. But the project had it’s fair share of failures. Anushka had particular difficulty perfecting the ink circuit. “How many times did my ink fail? 40 times? 50 times? Quite a few.” She also confesses there are a few jammed up printers in the garage. Add to that she encountered discouragement from skeptical adults.
When I started doing things with nanoparticles a lot of people – parents, judges – told me, ‘What you’re doing is impossible. It’s not going to work.’
But she knew her theory work on paper. She had confidence in her ideas and encouragement from mentors like her sixth grade teacher, Ms Pamela Svenson. Anushka credits Ms Svenson for her support, fueling her exploration in the sciences and encouraging her to file a patent for the ideas she has presented in her Google Science Fair submission.
This experience with the bandage project informs Anushka’s advice to other passionate kids interested in science.
Just because people say your idea won’t work, doesn’t mean you can’t prove them wrong.