Ever wonder how astronauts brush their teeth in space? Zero gravity makes this basic personal hygiene habit quite annoying and downright unsanitary. But, lucky for astronauts, the students in the Berkeley Intermediate and Middle School’s First LEGO League team, have made it their mission to solve this dilemma so that astronauts can go about their days in space with clean teeth and fresh breath.
It’s all part of the international program that the Berkeley Intermediate and Middle Schools participate in. First LEGO League (FLL) encourages students to be tomorrow’s innovators to practice imaginative thinking through real-world problems that have applications in science, technology, engineering and math.
Teams across the world are given a new “problem” every year on which to focus their project. This year, the mission was themed, “Into Orbit.” Teams were instructed to identify a human physical or social problem faced during long duration space exploration within the sun’s solar system and propose a solution.
For this challenge, the FLL team at Berkeley Intermediate and Middle School, who call themselves B.O.L.T. (Berkeley’s Outstanding LEGO Team) for short, actually met with a real NASA astronaut, Sunita L. Williams; retired Astronaut, Andrew Allen, who is currently vice president and general manager of Jacobs Space Operations Group at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral; and Joy Bryant, deputy program manager of Boeing CST-100 Starliner, Boeing Space Style. In addition, the team was fortunate enough to interview Melanie Weber, the design engineer for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, who is responsible for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, from blueprints to launch.
“They were thorough in their research, that’s for sure,” says Nicole Brevard-Hines, the library media specialist at Berkeley Intermediate and one of the coaches of B.O.L.T. “It is the team’s responsibility to brainstorm a solution, do all the research, design the product and present it to the judges.”
After their interviews and research, the team decided to create “Vacuplaque.”
“As we searched for our project, we toyed over many ideas. Through further research, the team discovered astronauts face the dilemma of disposing of their toothpaste, plaque and saliva after brushing by swallowing or spitting into a napkin. Aside from it being unsanitary, we learned there are some potential health risks associated as well,” Brevard-Hines explains.
Basically, Vacuplaque is a battery-powered toothbrush that suctions the saliva and toothpaste from your mouth after brushing. Vacuplaque has a built-in toothpaste dispenser so astronauts do not have to hold more than one item while brushing. Vacuplaque has two compartments. One compartment contains the toothpaste and the other collects the waste after brushing.
When the button on the handle is pushed, it dispenses a pea-size amount of toothpaste. The toothbrush holds a replaceable travel-size tube of toothpaste. Vacuplaque contains a lithium ion battery and is stored in a case with a sanitizing ultraviolet light, to be velcroed to the spaceship. The cost to produce Vacuplaque is approximately $30 with the sanitizing case. Adrian Neals, B.O.L.T.’s SPAWAR mentor, states, “My biggest satisfaction is seeing the team’s goals and interests become a reality.”
The invention of Vacuplaque has opened many doors for B.O.L.T. They captured first place in robotics and second place overall at the Ace Basin Qualifier in Colleton County. Then the team advanced to the East State Competition at Cane Bay Elementary School in December 2018.
It was there that B.O.L.T. was crowned grand champions and given the honor of representing South Carolina at the Plan Ceibal International Open in Uruguay or the FLL World Festival First Championship in Houston. After much debate, the team chose the World Festival in Houston on April 17-20 where about 70,000 people will travel to show off 1,300 robots.
Team B.O.L.T. consists of 10 students from both Berkeley Intermediate and Berkeley Middle Schools ranging from fourth through seventh grades. They meet two times a week for about four hours each time. B.O.L.T. team members are Lily Bunton, Landon Kokinda, Tori McCay, Samantha Miles, Ariana Miller, Chase Moore, Charlotte Mueller, Denzel Reid, Annalese Smith and Joshua Wallace. Besides Brevard-Hines, other team coaches are Jeanna Wallace, Jennifer DuBose, Sam Speraw and Adrian Neals.
FLL includes about 40,000 teams from 98 different countries. There are more than 320,000 participants worldwide. They hold various competitions around the world each year. International competitions are invitation-only.
B.O.L.T.’s robotics coach Speraw says, “Being a part of B.O.L.T. helps the students learn to be successful in the field and it encourages trying different things. It is wonderful to watch them accomplish so many missions.”
DuBose, another coach says, “The experience and opportunities that B.O.L.T. has created for these kids is priceless. They become great public speakers and they learn to think on the fly. It teaches them the ability to work together even through differing opinions.”
Brevard-Hines says that her favorite part of the program is the core values that FLL instills in their competitions and throughout the problem-solving projects.
“It’s teaching kids the ‘right’ way to compete,” she says. “It’s friendly competition. If you have a piece that someone else needs to complete their project, even if giving them that piece will push them ahead of you in the competition, you give it to them because we want to see everyone succeed. We teach them that the playing field needs to be even. Everyone has the right to win.”
Coach Wallace is proud of how B.O.L.T. comes together. “We are more than just a STEM club, we are a family. Once a member of B.O.L.T., always a member.”
The core values are discovery, innovation, impact, inclusion, teamwork and fun. “By embracing the core values, participants learn that friendly competition and mutual gain are not separate goals, and that helping one another is the foundation of teamwork,” the FLL website states.
Brevard-Hines concludes, “These students grow up so much during their time spent with B.O.L.T. When I go to programs at our feeder schools, I always see current and former members of B.O.L.T. participating in extracurricular activities, receiving awards, speaking clearly and fluently, with confidence. It makes me so proud.”
If you would like to donate to help get B.O.L.T. to Houston for the FLL competition, contact the school at 843-899-8878 or email Brevard-Hines at firstname.lastname@example.org.