Local middle school student wins regional and federal awards for science project

St. Stephen – You might remember hearing about Sawyer Russell last year after he won a science fair with his project about hand/eye coordination. Well, he is still working at it, and has received both regional and federal awards for his research. Russell said his project has been three years in the making.

As a hockey and soccer goalie, he was naturally drawn to learning more about hand/eye coordination. After watching a video about the benefits of using a thought process along with the physical actions, he decided to conduct his first test on vision training.

Not only did the 14-year-old win a school science fair while attending St. Stephen Middle School, he also tied for first place for a regional award, and has received national honours for his research and the creation of an app that supports his research. He plans to continue working on his research, and is heading into Grade 9 at St. Stephen High School this year.

Russell received a regional award from Make Projects, which is through Youth Sciences Canada. He also received honours through Atlantic Health Exploration and Discovery. This organization was looking for health-related science fair projects, and was given Russell’s name.

University students present various research findings online, and they included middle school science fair participants, and they have their own page at www.discoveringtogether.ca/asd-south-science-fair

“It’s a science fair project that based on health/sports,” said Russell. “It’s called Mind Ready. It’s my previous years of science fairs, and this year’s put together. In previous years, I did a lot of experiments with hand/eye coordination.

“Originally it started out by seeing if adding a thought process improved hand/eye coordination. My results were really inconclusive. It was a lot, so I decided to redo it the next year where I had better testing and more participants. I really crunched down the variables that time. I won silver in provincials with that project.”

Through his research, Russell learned about exercises that will help to develop these skills. Through his research and personal experiences, Russell said he created a prototype of a hand/eye coordination app called Mind Ready, which offers three types of training: with a thought process, without a thought process, and peripheral vision training. He said that by using this app, athletes can easily discover how much they can improve their skills through vision training.

Because his ideas are so innovative, a scientist from the University of New Brunswick asked if she could include his research on her own website. She asked for his photo, and permission to use his work.

Russell’s first test involved comparing exercises with and without using a thought process, and the reaction times in both instances. He gave an example of a test, and said to imagine catching a ball, and then to imaging catching a ball that has numbers or letters written on it and having to say those numbers and letters before catching, and how this affects the reaction time.

This is a project that required a fair amount of time. In the second year of his research, he expanded and improved on the study, and discovered that these skills are totally independent of one another. He also discovered something to add to his project, which is how these exercises can improve peripheral vision, something he had not previously considered.

“This year, I had all that research,” said Russell. “Basically, through trial and error, I found that adding a thought process to exercise opens a whole new can of worms. You can train one way through without a thought process, and it will improve reaction speed. If you train with the thought process, it’s not the same type of training. It’s a completely different skill. It’s important to train in both, because can train in one but you’re not necessarily good at the other.”

Russell said he started out with the idea of juggling, but soon realized that while this, along with playing catch or throwing a ball against a wall and catching it were great ways to improve hand/eye coordination and spatial awareness, it was not as good for improving reaction speed. He discovered through other activities, such as throwing a ball against a wall and catching it, or playing catch with others, hand/eye coordination would greatly improve. By adding a thought process, it would improve reaction speed.

“If you add a thought process to the initial drill, and you add numbers, before you catch the ball, you have to say what number you see on the ball. From there, if it’s odd you have to put it to the left, and if it’s even, put it to the right. It’s kind of like adding another step to a normal drill.”

According to Russell, much research is currently being done regarding concussions in sports and how to avoid them. He said that improving peripheral vision can help to reduce the risk of concussions.

“This year, along with that, I had my research on peripheral vision,” said Russell.

“Peripheral vision is one of the only ways you can help yourself to prevent concussions. That’s a huge part of sport right now, is concussion prevention. If there’s a little thing that you can do to increase safety, other than use helmets, peripheral vision is spatial awareness and seeing what you’re not focusing on. In hockey, if you’re about to get hit, you can notice little details sooner and brace for an impact.”

Russell decided to create the Mind Ready app for people like himself and other athletes, as well as people who simply want to improve their hand/eye coordination, speed of thought, reaction speed, peripheral vision, and concussion prevention. He found a mentor to help him learn how to code, and together they created Mind Ready.

Russell said it is his research, experiments, and results from three years’ worth of science fairs that has led him to create his app, which is not yet published due to the expense of publishing apps. But, it is something he continues to work on, and he hopes to be able to raise enough funding to be able to publish his app and help others through his research.

“It isn’t published yet,” said Russell. “We have it almost finished. It’s one of the things that you can just keep on improving, which is what a science project is. It’s not quite finished, and it’s not published on the app store because it costs a lot of money to publish.

“There’s different tests you can do to track your progress in different areas. You can figure out which areas it will help you improve in. You can really find which area you need to worry about more, and it’s a lot more accurate. Not only are you training harder, you’re also training smarter.”