GEMS project combines science and fashion

Published 10:53 am Wednesday, October 31, 2018

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

The Chilton County Girls Engaged in Math and Science team is combining engineering and clothing design for this year’s project.

Students will create and program a series of lights through wearable technology, then incorporate it into a dress design inspired by one Katniss Everdeen wears in “The Hunger Games.”

Team member Grace Tuell, a senior from Chilton County High School, said faculty sponsor Jay LeCroy had mentioned doing something with wearable technology, and the girls looked at some examples online.

“I was like, ‘This is so cute. I love it,’” Tuell said. “It’s so amazing.”

Microprocessors will allow the team to program the lights to blink and change colors.

“The microprocessors are basically a computer brain that you can put on a little circuit board, and you can program that to do anything,” Tuell said.

Tulle said current will flow from a 5-volt battery to the microprocessor and then to the lights. The program tells the microprocessor when to turn on the lights and which ones to turn on.

Plans are for one dress to have all one color, while another will have a variety of colors. Tulle said she is most looking forward to the programming and sewing aspects of the project.

The team is in the beginning stages and are focusing on their written application and submission video for the GEMS Expo/State Science Fair. The video is due Nov. 16.

Tulle has already created a prototype for the circuit board that the team will be using.

While the students are calling the project “Girl on Fire,” safety precautions and measures will be in place to ensure this does become a reality. This will be team member Cristy Cubbison‘s focus. Cubbison, a senior at Verbena High School, said she became interested in the project when LeCroy asked her about joining the team.

“I like how the lights are in the dress and it can’t harm you in any way,” Cubbison said.

Team member Chloe Barron said the plan is to be able to control the lights from an app on the girls’ cell phones.

“We will program the lights, and the app will control it,” Barron said. “(We’ll) tell it whatever color we want it to be on the app, and it will change the colors of the light.”

She said she will probably be mostly working on programming the lights and attaching them to the dress.

Barron, a CCHS 10th grade student, said she was interested in participating because “it was an all-girls team for engineering, those are kind of rare, especially around here.”

In addition to all of the engineering work, the students will also be sewing the dress.

“My grandmother taught me how to sew,” Tulle said “I can sew on the sewing machine and by hand.”

The team will use a special conductive thread instead of wire to connect the electrical components.

LeCroy said there will be up to 100 mini lights on each dress.

“We are hoping to get it working to put it into practical use at prom,” Tulle said.

LeCroy estimates that the dresses will be complete by mid-February.

Team member Emily Powell, a 10th grade CCHS student, said she also knows how to sew but has never done a project combining it with technology. Powell and Cubbison said they are looking forward to seeing the finished product.

LeCroy said the project will involve a lot of problem solving while giving the students “real-world experience.”

Barron anticipates initially having challenges with the programs not running the way the team wants.

The GEMS team is looking for local dress shops or boutiques that would be willing to be partners in the project.

“We like to have partners in the real world,” LeCroy said.

This is the 11th year that Chilton County Schools has had a GEMS team.

The state Science Fair this year is being hosted by Southern Research, which will give the girls a chance to meet women who are already working in the fields of engineering and research, LeCroy said.

He said it was an opportunity to “expose girls to female role models in STEM fields.”