Career Center team wins $10,000 grant from Lemelson-MIT Program

BUILDING ON THE success of previous classes, Hannaford Career Center students Sam Klingensmith (left), Roza Stewart and Adin Girard, along with their classmates Ileigh Aube and Eben Clifford (not pictured), will spend the year helping develop a meter to measure maple sap flow. Their project was recently chosen for a $10,000 InvenTeams grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program.

MIDDLEBURY — After years of development by successive student teams at the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury, an invention called the “maple meter” has won some major recognition.
Yesterday the HCC received a $10,000 InvenTeam grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I am impressed by this year’s InvenTeams and their commitment to solving important problems in society,” said Stephanie Couch, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, in an Oct. 23 press release. “By drawing on many different disciplines, the InvenTeam initiative helps shape well-rounded students who are better equipped to tackle the technological problems they will face in the modern workplace.”
Hundreds of student teams around the country apply for the grant each year. The HCC team was one of 14 to be selected for the award, and one of only two teams selected for the Solving Problems in Food and Agriculture category.
“It’s a really great opportunity for us,” said 12th-grader Ileigh Aube, a member of the HCC team.
The maple meter, which is designed to measure the flow of sap through a sap line and transmit the data to a sugarhouse computer, could help sugarmakers more easily locate leaks, sags and frozen lines, according to a lab paper written two years ago by HCC students Jacob LaFleche and Adam Whitcomb.
For operations with tens of thousands of sap lines, this could translate into big-time savings. The device could also help sugarmakers identify and understand the ideal conditions for sap flow.
HCC students John Bent and Will Larocque conducted the first field test of a maple meter prototype during the 2019 maple season. In May, they pitched the project to UVM’s Proctor Maple Research Center and Swanton-based Leader Evaporator, which is the largest U.S. manufacturer of maple syrup production equipment.
As Bent and Larocque made their pitch, classmates Sam Klingensmith, Roza Stewart and Eben Clifford took notes and recorded comments and suggestions.
“Leader and UVM were very enthusiastic,” said HCC Forestry and Natural Resources Instructor Aaron Townshend, the team’s faculty leader.
The students came away from the meeting confident that they had industry interest for a product with immediate practical and market applications.
Which is part of what attracted the attention of the Lemelson-MIT Program.
In June, after reading a March 14 Addison Independent story describing the maple meter project, the program reached out to Townshend, inviting the HCC to apply for the InvenTeams grant, Townshend recalled.
The following month, based on the HCC team’s preliminary application, Townshend won an Excite Award, “which is given annually to up to 25 K-12 educators across the United States in recognition of their exemplary work facilitating project-based programs in their schools,” according to the foundation website.
Then, near the end of September, the team submitted its final grant application paperwork.
“Part of the process involved trying to figure out how we would spend the $10,000 if we got it,” said Stewart. “It took us about a half-hour to come up with a list,” she added, laughing.
At the moment, the Career Center holds a provisional patent for the maple meter, and the HCC board has approved the pursuit, at some point, of a utility patent.
Ileigh Aube, who serves as the technical lead, handles the research for parts, building and engineering. She’s also in charge of revamping the device’s circuitry and programming, which will involve computer coding she learned how to do in previous classes at the Career Center.
Roza Stewart, who serves as the research lead, keeps thorough records of processes, problems and developments. Next June she’ll help develop a project presentation using Lemelson-MIT templates and research protocols.
Sam Klingensmith, who serves as the communications lead, makes sure everyone on the team is on the same page. He coordinates meetings and schedules and manages the flow of information among team members.
Adin Girard, who serves as the sustainability lead, is in charge of minimizing the environmental impact of their product and is helping Aube research food-safe materials (which must also be able to conduct electricity).
Eben Clifford, who serves as the financial lead, manages the money. The Lemelson-MIT Program will send the students a “spending card,” or debit card to use for project-related purchases.
John Bent, who developed and helped test the first field-ready prototype last year, will act as a consultant and will likely be called upon to machine new parts for the meter.
And Aaron Townshend is their faculty leader.
The Lemelson-MIT program will check up on the project’s progress during sugaring season, by which time the team plans to have produced 10 working prototypes for testing at the UVM sugarhouse in Proctor and the HCC sugarhouse in Weybridge.
In June, the team will make their final presentation at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, which is also home to the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.
The grant isn’t about the money, Townshend said. It’s about recognizing the students and the work they’ve done.
It’s also about recognizing the innovation that’s happening in the Green Mountain State, he added.
“This is a big deal for Vermont.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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