Sisters earn award with new device

Annette M. Drowlette/Staff
Home-schooled sisters Mary Claire Birdsong (right), 13, and Katherine Birdsong, 9, are regional winners in the ExploraVision national science and technology competition.

The way Mary Claire and Katherine Birdsong see it, their device is almost like a "pantyhose" of very fine wires that could be laid across atrophied muscles and help zap them back into shape. Their vision is now paying off.

The two Augusta homeschoolers were honored Friday for winning one of six regional prizes in the Toshiba/National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision Awards. Theirs was chosen from among 4,257 entries in the annual contest.

"We were all shocked," said Katherine, 9, no pun intended.

The girls will go on to compete for the national prize next month.

Called the Micro-Fiber Nerve Muscle Activator, the device would use microwire or even nanowire to create a meshed sleeve that could be programmed to deliver electrical stimulation at a certain site on the muscle.

"With this technology, we can be much more precise," said Mary Claire, 13.

Being able to hit a specific spot to stimulate the muscle is important, said Eric Robertson, an assistant professor of physical therapy at the Medical College of Georgia.

Katherine originally conceived of the device as an overlay for her violin neck "to light up where my fingers were supposed to go," she said. But the girls changed it when they saw that a neighbor whose neck muscles had been weakened by an accident wasn't recovering well with current therapy.

"Not only is it a neat idea," said their mother, Lisa Birdsong, "but it might even work."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.