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SWEET HOME KIDS WIN WITH FUTURISTIC 'APPY BOT'

A fifth-grader's bad experience with appendicitis inspired the futuristic "Appy-Bot" that helped a Heritage Heights Elementary School team beat more than 1,000 entries to become a finalist in the Toshiba/National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision Award competition.

The team of Tim Lock, Lenny Ranallo and Kyle Schick, led by enrichment teacher Norma Gentner, is competing against five finalist teams from across the country in the Grade 4-6 division for first prize: a $10,000 savings bond for each student plus a trip to Washington, D.C., for the awards gala.

The competition asks students in kindergarten through high school to come up with ideas for technology that could exist 20 years from now. The Heritage Heights team came up with an "Appy-Bot," a fleet of nanobots that would travel to a patient's diseased appendix and "pick away and/or wash the remaining blockage," eliminating the need for surgery.

The idea came from fifth-grader Tim Lock, who had a bad experience having his appendix removed. He had an allergic reaction to painkillers and developed an infection in an incision. "I just hope nobody else has to go through what I had to," he told his teacher. Tim's first idea was for an "Appenda Splash," a small robot what would travel through the gastrointestinal tract and neutralize acids by spraying a mist-like base over it.

The idea was refined after Tim's doctor, Dr. Glick, came to Heritage Heights to talk about appendectomies, which doctors nickname "Appies." The kids learned that appendicitis occurs when there is an obstruction in the opening of the appendix and bacteria grows in the area -- and has nothing to do with acids and bases. Meetings with professors at the University at Buffalo helped the kids decide to propose a fleet of nanobots "with each nanobot having only one job," Lenny said.

"It's been quite the experience," Gentner said. She has had two teams make the finals before, in 2002 and 2003, and hopes this time to win. "It takes a village," she said, noting the help the team got from its mentor, pediatric surgeon Dr. Philip Glick, and others. As an enrichment teacher, she said she has seen great ideas come from kids who may not be top students. "Some very creative kids can be just your average student," she said.

Other high-tech ideas in this year's competition include an early warning tsunami-detection device, a lightning rod that could harvest raw energy from the sky, and an "endangered fish protector" that would send alarms to boats to prevent underwater collisions with manatees and other sea creatures.

The Heritage Heights kids already won DVD players for themselves plus a Toshiba notebook computer for the school, which they used to develop the Web site about their project required to compete on the national level. National winners will be announced May 13. Find more information at www.exploravision.org.