Laurel Nokomis student named finalist in national inventors contest

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NOKOMIS, Fla. - As we near the end of the school year, a lot of students are looking back over some pretty major accomplishments. One Suncoast teen is just back from Hollywood after her work in science took her into the heart of movie making.

The movie Iron Man 3 made a big splash went it hit the big screen the first of this month. And a Laurel Nokomis School 8th grader was there to meet the star and to show off her invention, which is still on display in the lobby of El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, where the movie is showing.

15-year-old Audrey Harris is back in science class after being honored as one of 12 finalists in the national Iron Man 3 Inventors and Innovators Fair. "My project was to see if I could create a device to help quadriplegics open drawers and cabinets easier and faster. And I used a pastry spatula and leather fabric. I hammered off the handle of the pastry spatula and I used a strap that quadriplegics use."

Audrey was flown to Hollywood to show her project, and for the awards ceremony. Movie star Robert Downey, Jr. explained how the contest ties in with the Iron Man Movies. "This whole series is about someone who invents something out of necessity to kind of save their lives, and it turns into really nice entertainment. But I’m just so pleased to be a part of the youth of America, representing the things that are probably going to keep the planet sustainable, and push technology and innovation and invention forward for years to come."

Audrey’s project, called "Opening Up Opportunities", was inspired by her grandfather, who was a quadriplegic. "I noticed that he always had towels and strings wrapped around the handles of drawers and cabinets at this house. It was hard for him."

So she came up with her invention to help him. "He was like, ‘I can open drawers that I had never been able to open before’."

Her science teacher encouraged her to enter it in the contest. “It was such a heart-felt project, and a really simple innovative solution to a need that apparently hadn't been thought of to address before," says Cindy Schlotterback.

She hopes Audrey's success will inspire her classmates. "To just look around them and find a need they can address. You try to teach them that science is all around them, and all they have to do is have a little imagination and a little bit of hard work, and they can do it."

Audrey is still working on her project. She is modifying it so it can also accommodate people with arthritis. She says she'd like to have a company sometime in the future, to design and build devices to help people with disabilities.