Senior Harry Paul wins big at Intel ISEF: Scoliosis spine device designed to limit number of surgeries

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Senior Harry Paul at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles, California. Paul won five awards for his device made to straighten the spines of children with scoliosis. His invention was designed to decrease the amount of surgeries needed by people who suffer from scoliosis. Paul himself is affected by this disease and was inspired to make a difference in the field.

Rianna Stolper, Contributing Writer

Senior Harry Paul recently won five awards at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles.  He developed a device to straighten and stabilize the spines of children born with scoliosis.  Paul took home special awards from the Office of Naval Research, awarded on behalf of the United States Navy and Marine Corps, and from the charity Open Hearts of Ukraine.  He also earned an Innovation Exploration Award.  Finally, Paul was one of three projects in his category to receive the “First Place Award in Engineering: Materials and Bioengineering”  and was awarded best in the category.

Paul’s invention extends as the patient grows, which prevents a dozen or more surgeries.  It also reduces the formation of scar tissue and risk of surgery-related infections.  Paul was born with congenital scoliosis.  Between the ages of two and eleven, Paul spent much of his time in the hospital, relearning how to walk and was generally limited in his activities.  From this experience he developed a true passion for helping others with scoliosis.  For Paul, creating and implementing this project was a way to do so.

“For years I had been promising myself that I would do everything in my power to contribute to the field of congenital scoliosis research in the hopes of improving the quality of life for patients,”  said Paul.

Paul has been competing in science fairs for three years, but the specific process for this project at ISEF required that he be chosen from his science research classmates to compete at the Long Island Science Fair (LISEF).  After the second round of LISEF, most students go on to the New York State Science and Engineering Fair (NYSSEF) but since he won first place in his category, Paul was offered a spot on the ISEF delegation.

According to Paul, the reason for his success at ISEF was “sheer determination.”  Despite experiencing initial failure, Paul remained determined to find a way to minimize the amount of surgeries associated with spine straightening, without hindering the spine’s growth.  The cost of his inventon contributed to the challenge of realizing the project.  Typically, tens of thousands of dollars are paid to outside companies to perform copious mechanical tests to prove the product’s strength and efficiency.  However, Paul was able to evade this process by designing his own testing method and using computer stimulation  to ascertain the efficacy of the product.  Additionally, he also designed and built a mechanically-growing simulation of the spinal column made out of plastic and store-bought materials to ensure that his invention would work on human children.

Paul ultimately provided a system by which doctors, researchers, and engineers in the field can test their ideas using his methods.

“I embarked on this incredible research journey to improve the condition of so many children like me who don’t have access to the medical care that I did,” said Paul.

Paul fortunately had many people aid him over the years in his research, in addition to those who provided him with medical help.

“I am particularly thankful for the incredible support of my parents who have always gone above and beyond in supporting me both mentally and physically as I strive to accomplish different goals,” said Paul.  “But also, Ms. Ezratty has been invaluable mentoring me over these years, as have all my fellow science research students, I can’t thank K2M, Inc. enough for their support and guidance.”

K2M Inc. is an organization that works to improve the techniques and technology used in complex spinal surgeries.

Paul states that his experience at ISEF was one that he will never forget.

“I met some truly incredible people and learned more than I ever thought possible,” said Paul.  “It was a week with 1,700 of the smartest kids of my generation and each was more passionate about their work than the previous.”