HAVERHILL — Whether they come ashore alone or in a group, whales and other marine mammals that beach themselves often face death.
To prevent that from happening, a Haverhill girl who is a freshman at Georgetown Middle High School came up with an invention that garnered several awards at the Northern New England Regional Invention Convention held at Southern New Hampshire University on March 25.
Veronica Lewis, 14, received the first place “Challenge Category Award" with the theme “Invention to the Rescue”— which are inventions that rescue or save something in peril.
Her invention the NOMAD: Navigational Ocean Mammal Assistance Drone herds and guides whales and sea mammal pods like dolphins to safer areas of the ocean when stranded.
She also won the "Inventor’s Choice Award" which is voted on by her peers at the event and the Medical Award.
"She did her research, built a prototype and had to explain her invention design concept to judges from the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields) industry," said Nicole MacMillan, director of the Young Inventors’ Program, which is made up of more than 70 New Hampshire and Massachusetts schools that teach the invention curriculum through the Young Inventors Program of Northern New England, a program of the nonprofit Academy of Applied Science based in Concord, New Hampshire.
Veronica and other regional winners will be invited to go on to the National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan in May.
This award isn't Veronica's first claim to fame.
She previously won the Granite State Blues Society's Youth Musician Award for her boogie-woogie style of piano playing. She went on to represent New Hampshire at the annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis, where she played in a honky-tonk club on Beale Street, showcasing her musical ability and vocals.
Inspired by a creativity class
Mary Lyon, a teacher in Georgetown Middle High School's Business and Technology Department, said Veronica was in her "Creativity, Inspiration and Innovation" class during her first semester. Lyon said this problem-solving class, which all students must take, asks them to come up with a problem and solve it.
This is where Veronica came up with the idea for her NOMAD device. Plus, she's long been interested in whales — and stories about whales, such as "Moby Dick," as well as robotics, which she has been involved in at her former school, Hampstead Academy.
"She is the only student and our first one to enter the competition," said Lyon, who thought so highly of Veronica's invention that she agreed to be her sponsor. "Her invention looks like a trimaran and has a speaker that sends out whale sounds and features GPS technology to remotely navigate the drone. And it has solar panels so it can operate independently."
"I think her project is very unique and original, Lyon added. "She's taken existing technologies and combined them in an original way."
Veronica said that for the purposes of the Invention Convention, she created a scaled-down model of a NOMAD and that in real life, it would be 10 to 20-feet long.
"When you're dealing with large waves, you need this to be of a substantial size," Veronica said.
In researching her device, she spoke to experts in the field who work at organizations such as the Marine Mammal Institute in Mississippi, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the St. Andrew's Institute in Scotland.
"Whale sounds are literally the entire purpose of the device," she said. "These sounds are intended to lure cetaceans out of shallow water and into deeper water. Or you can position the NOMAD to act as a boundary to prevent them from entering shallow water in the first place."
She obtained recordings of whales, dolphins and porpoises that she played back on a portable sound system she brought to SNU for the Invention Convention.
"People were really intrigued with the different sounds I had collected," Veronica said. "It helped them understand the basics of my project."
She described her NOMAD as a convergence of proven modern technologies that can solve virtually all aquatic mammal strandings, noting the technologies incorporated into her device includes drones, fin and jet propulsion, solar panels, GPS, CPU, submersible speaker technology, SONAR and visual monitoring.
Recently, a representative from the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium contacted Veronica to meet on April 17 at the aquarium to discuss her invention.
"My model is not completely functional, but we know all these technologies will work once we bring them all together," Veronica said. "I have a patent pending for the NOMAD, and hope to build a full-scale working model."
Once she receives her patent, she plans to seek out technical assistance and apply for a grant to purchase materials and travel to testing areas as far away as New Zealand and Hawaii, and as close as Woods Hole in Massachusetts.
"Every year, hundreds of cetaceans die because of strandings, and the NOMAD could potentially prevent this from happening," Veronica said.