Coon Rapids senior brings home bronze from international science fair competition

A third place finish at the international science fair served as crescendo for Matthew Lerdahl’s high school career.

Matthew Lerdahl

Matthew Lerdahl

Claiming bronze in the in the Bio-Medical Engineering Division of the science fair, staged in Los Angeles May 11-14, Lerdahl researched, examined and further developed the clinical side of a biofeedback controller providing virtual training for myoelectric transradial prosthesis.

In simplest terms, Lerdahl worked to perfect an artificial limb, one that reads the user’s brainwaves to intuitively control the limb, resulting in more degrees of freedom and capability.

Lerdahl also placed in the top five for his research paper on the subject at the Junior Science and Humanities Symposia, winning an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. to attend the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force Symposium held there April 23-27.

During that program, Lerdahl presented to a panel of judges and an audience of peers the results of his research efforts. He also had opportunity to take part in hands-on workshops, panel discussions, career exploration, research lab visits and networking.

“I am so grateful for everything. This has been an amazing experience,” Lerdahl said and then described a switch in his focus.

“I had been working on the mechanical side of things for two years, designing a mechanical prosthetic, but switched to the clinical side this year,” the young scientist said.

While Lerdahl maintained excellence in the classroom and on the playing field during his senior year at Coon Rapids, he dove into his science fair project, devoting an estimated 250-300 hours to the task from June 2013 to March 2014, he said.

“When you find a passion for something, you just find some time for it,” he said.

Lerdahl’s work on  the myoelectric transradial prosthesis doesn’t end with the international science fair and the Junior Science and Humanities Symposia program. He will present an abstract on virtual training for bioprosthetics at the MioElectric Control Symposium with Dr. Jobi Vargheese in New Brunswick, New Jersey, this summer.

“I’m just so grateful to the science fair for everything,” Lerdahl said, noting that he was the only Coon Rapids student to participate in the regional level of competition. Only two from regionals advance to international competition, he said.

“I don’t understand why everyone’s not doing it. Doing graduate level research like this benefits you exponentially. I am so grateful for everything this experience provides,” he said.

As for his inspiration to pursue research and further development of transradial prosthetics, the high school senior said he just really wants to work with amputees.

“I’ve seen military members coming home without limbs. I wanted to get in on that, making things better for them. I just really want to work to improve lives any way possible,” Lerdahl said.

Lerdahl credits his ninth-grade science teacher, Gary Alexander, for “recognizing my passions and taking me under his wing.”

“He really saw something in me … He believes in the importance of research and its value to students and he helped me to pursue my passion,” Lerdahl said.

In fact Alexander said Lerdahl is a student like none other.

“I have had many successful students in my teaching career but Matt is at a level beyond anyone that I have ever taught,” Alexander said. “He sets his goals and he attains them. Last year, he was an observer at International Science and Engineering Fair, he set a goal of coming back and presenting, and he did. That’s Matt.”

Lerdahl’s high school awards and recognitions are many. During his senior alone, Lerdahl received the Sons of the American Revolution Award (in recognition of his scholastic achievement, extracurricular involvement and commitment to service and leadership), the Lee Krough Award (for outstanding work demonstrated as an American Legion Boys State participant), Eagle Scout award, Advanced Placement Scholar designation, as well as the international science fair prize.

As for his post-high school plans, Lerdahl has been accepted into the Air Force Academy and he “just fell in love with it,” he said.

“It just fits my personality. I want to continue to develop and improve myself with athletics, leadership, and academics. The academy is a perfect blend of all components,” said Lerdahl.

The newly-minted scientist of international acclaim plans to do undergraduate work at the academy, then continue on to graduate school for biomedical engineering at Harvard or Johns Hopkins University.

“Then, I want to serve the Department of Defense or the Air Force doing research and eventually perhaps work in the private sector,” said Lerdahl.

And so, as his high school career comes to a close, Lerdahl steps into the great beyond, expressing his gratitude for steps taken on the journey thus far.

“It’s truly been an amazing time and I am crazy thankful for everything everyone has done for me,” he said.

To learn more about the international science fair, visit SocietyForScience.org. For more about the Junior Science and Humanities Symposia visit JSHS.org.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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