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BCHS freshman is finalist in NASA’s Mars Medical Challenge

Filed in Archive by on March 21, 2017

BCHS freshman Brianna Balzan poses with her Mars Medical Challenge submission called the Blood Circulation AssistantBethlehem Central High School freshman Brianna Balzan has been selected as one of four Teen Finalists for NASA’s Mars Medical Challenge after she used a 3D printer to design a medical device she thinks could help astronauts stay healthy on a mission to Mars. Balzan’s invention was singled out among more than 750 submissions nationwide.

The Mars Medical Challenge is offered through Future Engineers, an education platform that hosts and develops design challenges for young innovators. Future Engineers works with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Foundation and NASA to develop different series of 3D Space Challenges focused on solving real-world space exploration problems. This particular challenge asked K-12 students across the nation to create a digital 3D model of an object that could be used by an astronaut to maintain physical health on a three-year mission to Mars.

Working in her Introduction to Engineering and Design class led by Technology Teacher Kevin Shannon, Balzan researched, developed and built her object that she calls the Blood Circulation Assistant (BCA). The BCA is designed to promote blood flow to affected areas of the body, which Balzan says is a common difficulty among astronauts due to the lack of gravity in space.

“It’s not every day kids as young as Brianna get to work towards something as prestigious as a national challenge by NASA,” said Shannon. “I am glad my students had this opportunity and I am thrilled with Brianna’s success so far.”

So how does it work? Well, Balzan’s BCA is a ridged cylinder made of Ninjaflex – a flexible, elastic and high strength property – with a nozzle and plug that when squeezed and sealed creates a vacuum between the cup and skin. By doing this, she said, the BCA draws blood to any muscle that may be affected by a lack of physical activity by astronauts during space travel. Additionally, she said, the flexibility of the BCA is a perfect combination for 3D printing.

Balzan got the idea for the BCA from cupping therapy, a form of ancient Chinese medicine sometimes used to treat athletic aches and pains, increase blood flow and relieve inflammation. Cupping therapy drew worldwide attention after Michael Phelps used it during the Olympics.

After Balzan submitted her initial design she was selected as one of 10 semifinalists, and then advanced to the final round where four students will compete for the top design prize. Those in the final four, including Balzan, have been awarded a MakerBot Replicator Mini 3D printer. Balzan plans to donate the 3D printer to the school district.

“I hope it will be put in a place for students to use it,” said Balzan. “I think it will be a really great learning tool.”

Her next step is to complete a finalist interview with eight judges, including two NASA employees, who will decide on the winning submission. The winner receives a trip to Houston, TX and a tour of the NASA Johnson Space Center.

The Mars Medical Challenge winner will be announced on Mar. 28. BCSD wishes Balzan the best of luck!

To learn more about the Mars Medical Challenge and to see Brianna Balzan’s submission click here.