May 22, 2015 09:20AM
By ANNA MARIA LEMOINE
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — Thomas Toscano’s interest in science began when he was a kid and looked through his dad’s telescope for the first time.
The 17-year-old has developed his passion ever since. He’s built various circuits, and in 2012, he built a telescope for astrophotography. Over the course of the last four-and-a-half years, he’s constructed a hydrogen fuel cell for his senior project.
“Science gives you a certain exposure,” said Toscano, a senior at Westerly High School. “Any contribution any person can make is good for society as a whole.”
Toscano’s cell, which uses electricity to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen gas for use as fuel, was on display Thursday night at the third annual Westerly Public Schools STEM Expo in Westerly High’s Ward Building.
Several senior projects, expert presentations, STEM-based activities and interactive exhibits from local scientists, educational organizations, universities and companies encouraged student interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
“It gets them involved and shows them other ways to use math and science,” said Rob Gitzendanner of Yardney Technical Products, a technology-driven corporation that focuses on specialty battery technology. “They get a lot of different exposure to a lot of different things.”
Gitzendanner’s son, Jasper, a sixth-grader at Westerly Middle School, spent the evening learning about the size of a blue whale’s heart, how to make a 3D print of a smiley face and carve his name into wood.
He even made a brain.
“I needed one,” Jasper, 12, said of the brain he made out of paper. “Science is my favorite subject. It’s fun to do all the stuff here.”
Deniese Jones and her 6-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn Bodnar, took a tour through Justin Bentley’s biology classroom at WHS. Bentley had on display specimens of giant hissing cockroaches, a snake, razor clams and frogs.
“She loves insects,” Jones said of her daughter, who’s in kindergarten at State Street. “Life is a wonderment. She’ll have new thoughts after this. She’ll go home and draw what she saw, or make a story. The more you know about your world helps you take care of it.”
For many, Robert Woo provided the inspirational highlight of the night.
Woo, a 47-year-old who lives in Manhattan, demonstrated rewalker technology — a wearable robotic exoskeleton system that provides powered hip and knee motion to help people with spinal-cord injuries stand up and walk.
Woo, an architect, was paralyzed from the chest down in December 2007 in a construction accident — seven tons of steel fell on his trailer. He provided the technology demo Thursday for ReWalk Robotics, based in Massachusetts.
“Any chance I get to walk again, I do it,” Woo said. “It’s an incredible feeling that’s difficult to describe. Being able to just talk to you at eye level instead of sitting in the chair and looking up at you gives me more confidence.”
Woo had advice for everyone going into any field.
“We take a lot of things in life for granted. Getting dressed without legs is very hard,” he said. “It’s the everyday things that are problematic for me. But after having a near-death experience, I enjoy life. Stop and enjoy life. Don’t have any regrets.”