HOPKINTON — Hopkinton Police Chief Joseph Bennett and Hopkinton Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carol Cavanaugh are pleased to share that two Hopkinton High School students have created an award-winning invention in partnership with their local police department.
Nicolette Buonora and Lauren Strechay, sophomores at Hopkinton High School, have recently been recognized multiple times around the world for their Battery Swap invention, which is a result of their collaboration with the Hopkinton Police Department.
Both were students in Hopkinton High School teacher Doug Scott’s Engineering and Robotics course during the 2020-21 school year. Through his course, students work to identify a problem first responders face and invent a new solution.
The program evolved from work Scott has previously done with Lemelson-MIT, a program that promotes invention and the early stages of entrepreneurship among college students. Upon joining the staff at Hopkinton High School, Scott incorporated invention education — a teaching approach that focuses on identifying problems and developing solutions through the design and prototyping process — into his curriculum.
“I am very proud to have this program at Hopkinton High School and very impressed with what Nicolette and Lauren have achieved,” Dr. Cavanaugh said. “Frequently we review our curricula to determine what academic programming we may want to grow. It was determined several years ago that Engineering and Robotics instruction was one of those areas. Mr. Scott’s program has grown exponentially since then, and now we have students competing at state, national and international levels. Anytime the public schools can work with our town partners, it’s a great opportunity for our students. Mr. Scott’s project connecting students with first responders in our community truly is a model project.”
The Design Process
Through the partnership with the Hopkinton Police Department, students began the project by interviewing police officers to determine problems that existed in their work.
“We really look forward to working with Mr. Scott’s students each year,” Chief Bennett said. “Our school resource officers are well-integrated into the schools, but this program helps involve our officers who maybe aren’t engaging with the students as often. We welcome every opportunity to work with the community and I’m very grateful to Mr. Scott for inviting us to participate in the project each year.”
Students have chosen to focus their inventions on many different types of problems in previous years, including equipment worn by officers, cruiser equipment and technology and more.
Buonora and Strechay chose to focus on officers’ flashlights. Once they had identified an existing problem, which was the flashlight’s battery life, they began the design and invention process. They researched existing solutions, conceptualized new ideas, went through the ideation of designs and began manufacturing.
“I think this project is especially valuable to students because they really do it all themselves,” Scott said. “My job is to facilitate the project and to show them the processes and manufacturing skills that will help them develop and create their invention. We have a strong policy that no adult hands touch their inventions because we don’t want adults influencing the design or taking control of the physical work. Students often are more creative than their adult counterparts because they don’t have preconceived notions of what things should look like, so there’s always a lot of creativity and freedom in their designs.”
Buonora and Strechay also completed the project during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, adding complexities to their design and invention process. Much of the project was completed by emailing electronic files and exchanging materials via a locked parts box outside of the school. The student inventors would send Scott electronic files that he would print on the school’s 3D printers and they would then take the printouts home to work on them. Toolkits were also lent to the students to allow them to complete their inventions at home.
“It was exciting to watch as two students used engineering principles to create a design from an idea and then, using the tools I wish I had as a high school student, to create prototypes of the design — each successive prototype a little better than the last as they made improvements and ironed out problems,” said Barry Regan of Dell, who has served as a mentor for Scott’s first responder project since its start. “It was truly a job well done. We can use more women like them in the STEM fields.”
An officer’s flashlight is one of the most important tools they use on duty, especially those who work the night shift.
Years ago, when flashlights did not use LED lighting, officers would know their flashlight was running out of battery because it would start to dim. They would be able to start conserving their flashlight’s power and would have time to get out of the dark area they were in before the flashlight died. With the transition to LED flashlights, rather than the light dimming, the light often goes out completely and without warning.
To address this problem, Buonora and Strechay designed a switch that would give a flashlight two power sources. The product has two batteries on the inside and the added switch allows officers to shift between the two batteries for additional battery power. Essentially, the invention doubles the life of an officer’s flashlight.
“I was very impressed with the concept of the students’ invention and I really do see this becoming mainstream, especially in law enforcement,” Chief Bennett said. “We try to control the light in our environment as we work on a scene, so our flashlights are important tools. The battery switch is a very valuable enhancement to our flashlight because it allows us to manage the battery life better and have that reserve power to use when we need it to finish our work and get out safely.”
An Award-Winning Invention
After the invention was completed, students presented their work via short commercials to the police officers they had collaborated with throughout the unit. Buonora and Strechay’s Battery Swap invention was the top-scoring invention.
The team then participated in an online Hopkinton High School invention convention before being invited to the Massachusetts Invention Convention hosted in Cambridge by the Lemelson-MIT program. There, they won one of the top prizes at the state level.
Following their success at the state level, Buonora and Strechay participated in the National Invention Convention hosted by the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, again receiving one of the top prizes. Along with this recognition they were awarded a pro bono patent process and are working with Clark Hill PLC, a law firm of Detroit, Michigan on the patent process.
Most recently, the invention was entered into the Global Invention Convention. The students’ invention performed well.
“Nicolette and Lauren have taken their invention to the point that they’re competing internationally with something that started here in our small shop in Hopkinton. It’s really a monumental achievement,” Scott said. “I’m super proud of them for their perseverance more than anything. They’re very determined and very focused students, and they kept pushing and working hard during all of the challenges of last school year.”
“The Lemelson-MIT Program salutes the two award-winning inventors, Nicolette and Lauren, as well as their teacher, Doug Scott. Mr. Scott has been a master teacher for the Lemelson-MIT Program for almost a decade. He assists the program by mentoring educators across the country who are just beginning to introduce students to invention. He’s an exceptional educator and understands the great importance of introducing young women to inventing,” said Dr. Leigh Estabrooks, invention education officer with the Lemelson-MIT Program. “Only about 13% of patent inventors are women. I can’t wait to see what comes from Nicolette and Lauren’s work with Clark Hill. They’re only in the 10th grade. What else will they invent?”
Buonora and Strechay were also recognized for their achievements by the Hopkinton School Committee at its meeting on Thursday, Sept. 2.
The first responder project originally began with a partnership between Scott’s class and the Hopkinton Fire Department about five years ago. Now, the course usually rotates between partnering with police officers and firefighters. Students in Scott’s class this fall will complete the unit and work through the same invention education process with the Hopkinton Fire Department.
“Who would’ve thought a school inspection prior to the start of the year approximately five years ago would help me make such a valued connection with Doug Scott and his students every year? We at Hopkinton Fire feel very honored to be invited into Mr. Scott’s class every fall, discussing the current challenges of our job and exploring new ways to make our emergency responses more efficient and effective,” said Hopkinton Fire Prevention Officer Thomas Poirier, who helped begin the partnership between Scott’s classes and Hopkinton’s first responders. “It’s actually very humbling to see the effort the students always put in and we cherish the connections we’re able to make with all the engineering classes. Speaking for all of us here at the Fire Department, we’re looking forward to many more years of working with Doug and his young inventors!”