|Daniella Paola and Alex A Shilko; photo: Valley Breeze & Observer|
A firsthand encounter with a sports injury during a field hockey game inspired two Smithfield High students to investigate the effectiveness of athletic mouth guards as a Rhode Island Science & Engineering Fair project and brought home a First Grant Award for their effort last weekend.Seems they saw an opponent hit in a field hockey game last fall, suffering a mount and jaw injury because her mouth guard was not properly worn. These two budding scientist decided to investigate whether the injury could have been prevented if the mouth guard had been worn correctly, and to further test which mouth guards worked best.
They ran a series of experiments where they assembled sets of plaster teeth, and dropped various weights on them, simulating the approximate weight of different sports equipment that tends to cause the most injuries -- baseballs, softballs, field hockey balls, etc. Each set of "teeth" was protected by one of three popular mouth guard brands covering the range of prices, with a fourth set unprotected.
But their experiment didn't stop there.
In the next set of their experiment they obtained a set of dentures and headed to a lab at Brown University to an Instron machine, which can compress objects until failure. They put the mouth guards on the false teeth and tested.They hypothesized the more expensive mouth guard would perform highest. Instead, they were surprised to learn that the mid-range mouth guard worked the best, giving the wearer the most protection. They took their findings to the Rhode Island Science & Engineering Fair, where they won the top award.
The excitement wasn't only about receiving the award. They also enjoyed being around other science-minded young people.
"We are both really interested in science and to see all the different exhibits was awesome," Alexa said. "The atmosphere with everyone loving the same thing was pretty cool."Alexa plans on becoming a pharmacist, while Daniella is interested in biomedical engineering.