Coon Rapids student’s project in international competition

A Coon Rapids High School student has not only qualified for the state science fair, but also for international competition.

Matthew Lerdahl
Matthew Lerdahl

The science fair project of Matthew Lerdahl, a junior, won a host of awards at the regional science fair in St. Cloud in late February, including the top honor, a purple ribbon.

The state science fair takes place April 7-9 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bloomington, while the international science fair is in Phoenix, Ariz., May 10-16.

Only two projects from the regional science fair advanced the international science fair, according to Lerdahl.

In addition, Lerdahl earned special awards from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, Intel (innovative engineering award) and the National Society of Professional Engineers.

Lerdahl’s project is titled “Implementing Precision into Prosthetics via Phase Stepper Motors.”

Essentially, Lerdahl has designed and built a bionic arm that responds to voice recognition software to remove IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

“It is a tool for finding IEDs and defusing them as well,” he said.

It has been a three-year project for Lerdahl and he made it to state his freshman and sophomore years, but this is the first time he has advanced to the international science fair.

Through his project, Lerdahl has demonstrated that his bionic arm is more effective and has more precision with stepper motors rather than servomotors, he said.

According to Wikipedia, a stepper motor (or step motor) is a brushless DC electric motor that divides a full rotation into a number of equal steps. The motor’s position can then be commanded to move and hold at one of these steps without any feedback sensor (an open-loop controller), as long as the motor is carefully sized to the application.

A servomotor is a rotary actuator that allows for precise control of angular position and consists of a motor coupled to a sensor for position feedback, through a reduction gearbox, Wikipedia states.

It also requires a relatively sophisticated controller, often a dedicated module designed specifically for use with servomotors, according to Wikipedia.

Assistance for Lerdahl’s project came in the form of $2,000 worth of donated equipment from Applied Motion Products, a California company founded in 1978 that specializes in high-precision, cost-effective motion control products.

He has also worked with professors from the University of Minnesota biomedical engineering department, Lerdahl said.

According to Lerdahl, judges at the regional science fair all liked his project and thought it was feasible.

“They gave me a lot of helpful ideas,” Lerdahl said.

Lerdahl is really excited about the opportunity to demonstrate his project at the international level, he said.

“There will be students there from several different countries and I will get to meet new people,” Lerdahl said.

Nor will the international science fair mark the end of Lerdahl’s project, he said.

He plans to make improvements to his bionic arm by taking it to the next level and enter next year’s science fair, Lerdahl said.

At Coon Rapids High School, Lerdahl is a member of the Student Council and speech team and also plays on the football team.

He has lettered in academics, science fair, student council, football and basketball. His grade-point average is 4.16.

Lerdahl has been accepted for a week of training in June at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

There, he will learn what it is like to be a cadet at the academy, Lerdahl said.

As for college, Lerdahl is considering seeking an appointment to either the Air Force Academy or West Point, or if he does not go to a military academy, then the University of Notre Dame is on his radar.

His career goal at this point is biomedical engineering, according to Lerdahl.

Earlier this year, Lerdahl won for the second year the Coon Rapids VFW Post’s Voice of Democracy contest.

A senior patrol leader for Scout Troop 415, Lerdahl is currently working on his Eagle Scout project – he is planning to remodel the baseball field at Faith Lutheran Church, Coon Rapids, this spring.

At the church, he teaches both Sunday school and Vacation Bible School.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]