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Steadman Philippon Research Institute’s Science Club brings out the best and brightest

The Steadman Philippon Research Institute's Science Club's annual final project presentations were this week. Teams of students from local high schools spent a year researching scientific subjects, and presenting their findings to SPRI doctors, researchers and engineers.
Randy Wyrick|randy@vaildaily.com |

VAIL — Science changes things. When you find only what you’re looking for by speaking only with people who agree with you, that’s not science. That’s politics, and despite the name of the college major, politics is not a science.

The Steadman Philippon Research Institute hosted its annual Education and Public Outreach Committee’s Science Club projects.

Teams of local high school students spent a year studying things that will actually help you.

Through the gait

Take Vail Christian High School’s Casey Blakley and Sophia Branden. Or Vail Mountain School’s Sydney Sappenfield and Kaylie Evans. Or any of the other local high school students who spent most of the last year working beside researchers, engineers and doctors with the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

The more they learned, the more they wanted to learn, and the more they refined their projects.

Blakley and Branden invented their own technology and wrote their own computer code to perform gait analysis — how you walk — to determine an abnormality. Blakely and Branden changed their project a half dozen times.

The next step? Patent attorneys, probably.

Trochlear groove is not a jazz band

Vail Mountain School’s Sappenfield and Evans started with one idea, but finished with something completely different, an examination of how trochlear depth relates to contact pressure in the knee joint.

“We wanted to look at something that would be relevant,” Evans said.

On their way they sawed chunks out of an artificial bone. You think you could do that too, but you can’t do it right. Evans and Sappenfield can, and that’s why they were part of the Steadman Philippon Research Institute project.

Since there’s limited research on patellar dislocation and no definitive treatment, and because they worked hard at it, their methods proved successful in a majority of their trials.

“This is my real passion,” Evans said. “I loved having the opportunity to work with the Steadman group.”

Evans is headed to Elon University in North Carolina to study medicine and aspires to be an orthopedic surgeon.

Battle Mountain’s Julia Dramis and Chapin Benway studied the effect of knee and hip injuries on the ability to correctly perform yoga poses.

It’s important because yoga can be an important part of regaining flexibility and balance following an injury, explained Dr. Marc Philippon.

Pull it until it breaks

Eagle Valley High School’s Aiden Sokup studied the mechanical properties of synthetic tendons. In other words, he clamped nylon rope, steel bailing wire and roofing materials into a machine and pulled on them until they broke.

At the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, that’s called biomechanical testing, and they do it all the time.

Sokup learned that no matter how tightly you clamp something in, it often yanks itself free. Failure, he found, is always an option.

“It happened fairly often,” he said.

He also learned that nylon rope acts more like a tendon than bailing wire, but it’s not enough like a tendon to actually be used as a tendon.

“It’s still pretty far away, so I wouldn’t recommend it,” Sokup joked, as the chuckling audience of researchers and surgeons nodded in agreement.

The Steadman Philippon Research Institute’s Education and Public Outreach Committee, chaired by Senenne Philippon — began a program to inspire elementary, middle and high school students to become more involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Senenne was coordinating a benefit and people told her, “I wish my daughter could experience this,” or “I wish I had something like this when I was young.”

She said to herself, “We have this great resource of doctors, researchers, engineers. We should be sharing this resource with our community.”

She then said it to other Steadman Philippon Research Institute staffers, and more than 20 of them jumped in: doctors, researchers, engineers, everyone.

“The brainpower here in amazing. It’s great that these kids have these mentors, because everyone could use one,” Senenne said.

Students start taking Steadman Philippon Research Institute science tour labs in the fifth grade.

“We start in the fifth grade because they’re not afraid to ask questions, and they have tons of questions,” Senenne said. “You never know where this is going to take them.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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