Last fall, 17-year-old Mohammad Sayed challenged his fellow students at the NuVu Studio innovation school in Cambridge to fulfill a wish list of enhancements for his wheelchair. The project was so successful that the Cambridge resident and a classmate, 17-year-old Kaitlin Reed of Dover, were invited to present their designs at the fifth White House Science Fair in March.
Accompanied by NuVu founder Saeed Arida, the high school juniors joined several dozen teams of middle and high school students from across the country who were chosen for the science fair, and were among the relatively few who presented their projects to President Obama during his tour of the event. Reed demonstrated her group's lever-powered attachment for maneuvering a wheelchair, and Sayed's focus was a magnetic universal arm that can function as a cup holder, foldable tray, camera tripod, weather canopy, and hinged bag attachment. Both devices were manufactured using a 3-D printer.
Sayed said he was excited and nervous to meet Obama, noting "he was really nice."
"At the time, you think all these [design] challenges are frustrating, but then it's all worth it because the most powerful man on earth appreciates what you've done," he said. "It's a huge motivation to work even harder to achieve greater goals in the future."
Reed laughed as she recalled that Obama jokingly asked after her explanation of the hand-drive's ratcheting mechanism whether "thingy" is a technical term. Later, she took a selfie with Bill Nye the Science Guy, whose interviews with the science fair's participants are on YouTube.
"Overall, it was a super-cool, amazing experience," Reed said.
Sayed, whose family immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan five years ago, said he is continuing to develop applications that lock into the universal arm, such as an adjustable iPad holder. He already has a second wish list of more ambitious developments, such as a way to clean his wheelchair tires when coming into the house and the ability to more easily navigate over carpet, grass, and beach sand.
"It's great to go out and solve big problems, but there are little problems right in front of you," Sayed said. "As long as you have passion, there's absolutely no limit to what you can do."