, Gloucester, MA


October 31, 2007

Rockport ingenuity, MIT grant could save lives at sea

Congratulations to a team of Rockport High School students who have won a prestigious Lemelson-MIT grant to help them develop a device that could save the lives of commercial fishermen.

The team of eight freshmen and seniors, directed by teachers Jeff Richards and Bob Cannon, is one of just 16 high school teams from across the country to receive a grant, one of only two in Massachusetts and the only one from a public school in New England.

The so-called "InvenTeams" were selected by a panel of judges that included educators and researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, industry representatives and former grant winners.

Fishing boats today already carry emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs). In catastrophic cases, when vessels go under almost instantaneously due to rogue waves or an open-ocean collision, fishermen hope the EPIRB detaches automatically and floats to the surface to guide rescuers to their location. But sometimes the beacons become caught in the vessel's gear or rigging and are dragged under.

The Rockport students, some of whom have family members in the fishing industry, hope to minimize that possibility with a pneumatic auto-deployment system that will launch the beacon 40 to 50 feet away from the ship. They will use the grant to build a prototype in the high school shop, and plan to showcase the invention at the InvenTeams Odyssey event at MIT in Cambridge.

Richards said the goal is to have a working prototype before the weather gets bad.

Cannon notes that Cape Ann has lost more than 5,000 fishermen.

"It's part of our history we'd like to (change)," he said.

Members of the team are: John Williamson, 19; Andrew Williamson, Michael Montgomery, 18; Alex Goyette, 15; and Nying-jepo New Gallo, Morgan Downs, Brenda Tran and Kate Lawrence, all 14.

Congratulations and thanks to the students, teachers and MIT for the effort and the means to make the future of fishing safer than it has been in the past.

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