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HPA students bring science and technology projects to California conferences

CLOCKWISE: Luigi Balbo Bertone di Sambuy describes how his project is using brainwaves to modulate and create sounds; HPA students display some of the equipment they will use for their conference presentations. Seated, from left, are Hannah Twigg-Smith, Jessica Ainslie and Leila Morrison. Standing, from left, are Kenji Stinson, Jessica Chow, Bo Bleckel, Erina Baudat and Luigi Balbo Bertone di Sambuy; HPA student Erina Baudat shows the Emotiv brainwave headset she uses for her project monitoring the effects that music has on elderly dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients. (PHOTOS BY LISA M. DAHM | NHN)
CLOCKWISE: Luigi Balbo Bertone di Sambuy describes how his project is using brainwaves to modulate and create sounds; HPA students display some of the equipment they will use for their conference presentations. Seated, from left, are Hannah Twigg-Smith, Jessica Ainslie and Leila Morrison. Standing, from left, are Kenji Stinson, Jessica Chow, Bo Bleckel, Erina Baudat and Luigi Balbo Bertone di Sambuy; HPA student Erina Baudat shows the Emotiv brainwave headset she uses for her project monitoring the effects that music has on elderly dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients. (PHOTOS BY LISA M. DAHM | NHN)
HPA students, from left, Jessica Ainslie, Leila Morrison and Erina Baudat show some of the equipment they will use for their conference presentations. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
HPA students, from left, Jessica Ainslie, Leila Morrison and Erina Baudat show some of the equipment they will use for their conference presentations. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
Luigi Balbo Bertone di Sambuy describes how his project is using brainwaves to modulate and create sounds. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
Luigi Balbo Bertone di Sambuy describes how his project is using brainwaves to modulate and create sounds. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
Bo Bleckel demonstrates how he and Hannah Twigg-Smith were able to create virtual tours of all of the observatories on Mauna Kea using drone technology. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
Bo Bleckel demonstrates how he and Hannah Twigg-Smith were able to create virtual tours of all of the observatories on Mauna Kea using drone technology. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
Hannah Twigg-Smith, along with HPA student Bo Bleckel, created high-definition, virtual reality tours of all 11 observatories on top of Mauna Kea this past summer. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
Hannah Twigg-Smith, along with HPA student Bo Bleckel, created high-definition, virtual reality tours of all 11 observatories on top of Mauna Kea this past summer. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
HPA student Erina Baudat shows the Emotiv brainwave headset she uses for her project monitoring the effects that music has on elderly dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
HPA student Erina Baudat shows the Emotiv brainwave headset she uses for her project monitoring the effects that music has on elderly dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)

Seven students from Hawaii Preparatory Academy are about to embark on a whirlwind tech tour of California starting on March 26.

In a three-day span, the HPA upperclassmen will present at the California Academy of Sciences, visit Apple Headquarters, attend the Green Schools National Conference, then wind it all down by presenting their science projects at MacWorld/iWorld on March 29.

During their Golden State stay, Jessica Ainslie, Erina Baudat, Luigi Balbo Bertone Di Sambuy, Bo Bleckel, Leila Morrison, Kenji Stinson, and Hannah Twigg-Smith will have the opportunity to share their innovative, and cutting edge projects with some of the most prestigious and influential names in the industry.

“The Macworld Conference in San Francisco is huge,” Dr. Bill Wiecking, director of the Energy Lab. “There’s about 20,000 people worldwide. The day before the students present there, they’re going to present at the Apple campus.”

All seven students worked on their projects at the school’s state-of -the-art Energy Lab.

“The Energy Lab is a creative crucible for innovative students to have access to emerging technologies and tools,” said Wiecking.

One of the highlights of the Macworld Conference is a session called RapidFire, where presenters are challenged to both dazzle and instruct the audience in one new, innovative concept or approach in only five minutes.

“Last year during RapidFire, one of the students flew a helicopter around the audience using his brainwaves,” said Wiecking. “Then the next day he actually flew the helicopter over the audience while he was talking to them, which is really hard to do.”

The students are all presenting unique and creative research projects. Their projects include creating high dynamic range, virtual reality tours of Hawaii Island observatories as well as using this same technology to photograph from drones, monitoring the effects that music has on elderly dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients using the Emotiv brainwave headset, designing and building a wireless sensor to alert sleep apnea patients, working on DNA testing for fast- and slow-twitch muscle quality in runners, and working with the Tetris founders to study the brain’s activity while playing the game. Also included are projects related to school sustainability and campuswide energy audits.

“I got drawn to the Energy Lab by the brainwave headset,” said senior Jessica Chow who attended the conference last year. I heard that another student was presenting his brainwave controlled helicopter, and I couldn’t believe there was a headset that could read actual brainwaves.”

This inspired Chow to start an independent study on the connection between brainwaves and music.

“You often hear people talk about how classical music makes you smart,” said Chow. “I wanted to know what actually goes on in your brain when you listen to classical music, or any kind of music. I did a study and found that you actually do have higher levels of brain activity when you listen to classical music. You can tell a person’s concentration levels, and maybe their future moods. You can tell how engaged a person is. For example you can tell when a person is really relaxed or if they’re still seeing things in their minds. The brain is what Obama calls the next frontier and the brain really does have unlimited capacity. The applications are endless. In the future we could have brain-controlled cars, brain-controlled airplanes - it sounds scary, but it’s possible. You never know.”

Students Hannah Twigg-Smith and Bo Bleckel were both hired last summer by Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo to create high-definition, virtual reality tours of all 11 observatories on top of Mauna Kea.

“It’s like looking through a portal into all of the observatories,” said Twigg-Smith.

“With this type of photography you take three pictures with different exposures, then you put them on top of each other, which gives you all the detail and all the light from each exposure range. You can see everything on the inside and everything on the outside without it being washed out. We also created virtual tours for all of the observatories’ base stations as well as the Imiloa Headquarters in Hilo.”

Luigi Balbo Bertone Di Sambuy is using brainwaves to produce music.

“My project is using the brainwaves to modulate and create sounds,” said Sambuy. “At a very high level it will mean making music. The project is divided into two parts. One part is just sitting in a chair relaxing and seeing which sounds are generated based on your feelings and state of mind. The other way is more creative, where you actively become an author by processing and manipulating a sound or an instrument. I’m using a program where I create my own instrument so I can find a way of modulating sounds and creating sounds.”

Wiecking is hoping that the experience that the students gain from traveling together and observing each other present their work will be exciting and motivating.

“We’re taking seven students and everyone has their own different interests and specialties,” said Wiecking. “This is an opportunity for them to get out of their individual lab rooms and really see what each other has been working on.”