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#InspiredByCAGIS: CAGIS member designs device to help people with Parkinson’s disease

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An interview with Shifa Hussain

Shifa Hussain is 12 and is in grade 7 at Al-Falah Islamic School in Oakville, Ontario. This May, she’s going to be competing in the Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair with Project Ali, a wearable device she designed to help people with Parkinson’s disease, which is a brain disorder that has no cure.

One of the common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is tremors, or shaking, especially in the hands. Parkinson’s can make walking difficult as well. Shifa’s device measures a patient’s tremors, and also vibrates, which helps reduce the shaking.

Here, Shifa explains her project, her interest in science and engineering, and what inspired her work.

You’ve developed a device for people with Parkinson’s. Can you describe it? How does it help? 

There are two aspects to my device: analysis and therapy. The analysis part of my device collects data when the patient wears it while performing a daily activity, like drawing or writing. I am trying to figure out the range of the tremors.

The therapy part of my device is the vibration motors. They are controlled by a phone and distract the patient’s brain, therefore reducing the tremors and freezing of gait so that they can perform with ease. The data that were collected on the device were automatically transformed to graphs and labelled due to the device’s self-learning abilities. 
What kind of research did you have to do to come up with the idea? Who helped you along the way?
I did two months’ worth of research. There were many hurdles I came across finding volunteers to test the device. Haley Chapman, the community development coordinator at Parkinson’s Canada helped me reach out to patients after informing them about my device. Three patients were willing to test the device, and consent forms were given.
My mom was basically my ‘PR.’ She called support groups, retirement homes and nursing homes to recruit more participants as I had school and a lot of homework. I had to do a lot of research to see if there was a device like mine and, if yes, what I could do to make my project better. My father started the inspiration for coding in the first place. 
What inspired you to develop this device? Do you know anyone with Parkinson’s?
I was inspired by Muhammad Ali, which is why my device’s name is Project Ali. A couple of years ago, my family and I went to a conference where a segment was dedicated to Muhammed Ali. I learned about when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and how that impacted his life. I was left wondering what would happen if a device like mine was introduced to the boxer and how it would have improved his life. I do not know anyone personally with Parkinson’s disease.
Did you create Project Ali for a science fair?
Yes, this project was created for my school science fair. I won first place, and now I’m participating in BASEF [the Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair, which is open to Ontario students in grades 7 to 12 in Hamilton, Halton Region, Haldimand County, Norfolk County,  County of Brant and Six Nations]. I hope with this many more opportunities can come my way. 
What made you want to join CAGIS? What has your experience been like with the group?
I ran into a CAGIS volunteer at a live taping of CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks which is a science program that I listen to often. During the question and answer period I had a discussion with one of the astronauts and the CAGIS volunteer noticed my passion for science and recommended CAGIS. I joined in January of this year and am excited to be part of an organization which advocates for girls like me who love science and provide us with challenging activities.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working on science fair projects?
I try to balance my artistic and technical sides with activities like drawing, reading, writing, performing poetry and coding.
Are you interested in pursuing science or engineering in the future?
With my latest project I found a technical solution for a biological problem and I feel like the future of science is in bio-engineering, such as prosthetics and other devices that can aid in medical sciences.  
Science is a key to discovery: it’s life, it’s trial and error. It teaches us testable solutions. 
To find out more about the Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair, which is being held online this year, go to their website.
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