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An Episcopal, co-educational 100% boarding school in Middletown, Delaware for grades 9 – 12

Yiru Wang ’25 and his science project
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Tara Lennon

How an observation on the basketball courts inspired an award-winning independent research project

Like many budding engineers, Legos and Transformers were the building blocks of a growing passion for STEM within Yiru Wang ’25. The origin, however, of Wang’s engineering project that took him to two regional science fairs wasn’t found within these bins of legos, but on the Sipprelle Field House basketball courts.

Wang has been a presence in the St. Andrew’s basketball program since their III Form year, leading the varsity Constellation basketball team in three-pointers and remaining among the top scorers on the team each year. 

“I’m a basketball player myself, a student-athlete, and I’ve witnessed my teammates and myself and my coaches getting knee injuries really often,” says Wang. “And also my parents, as they get older, they are having trouble getting around, moving around, and being able to exercise their knees every single day.”

He watched as the people in his life utilized different types of knee braces to rehabilitate from their injuries, devices he classifies into two types: a cloth brace, “which is focused more on decreasing swelling in your knee and limiting blood flow,” and a “heavier, bulkier metal brace,” which he says “is mostly targeted on immobilization after surgeries to limit any kind of movement in your leg and knee.” 

Wang began to notice what he felt was a gap in these devices: What about a flexible, assistive rehabilitation device that helps an injured person facilitate gradual movements? 

Wang started to breathe life into their idea by talking to their St. Andrew’s community about it toward the end of their IV Form year. They discussed their concept with their friends on the crew team, their basketball coach, the athletic trainers, science faculty, and anyone else at St. Andrew’s with an ear to listen. 

“What definitely was the most helpful for me was their motivation and also their acknowledgement of how useful a device like this could be if I did carry out the research and manufacturing of this device,” says Wang. 

Emboldened by the community’s encouragement, Wang combed through research on pre-existing devices and materials. The summer after his IV Form year, he crafted his “pneumatic knee exoskeleton,” which consists of three sections of “airbag structures” which inflate and deflate to help the user bend and extend their knee. 

“I worked for around a month over the summer, and I worked really hard,” says Wang. “It was 10 hours per day, so that was a lot of work for me. But I really enjoyed the process. It was just a very independent research process.”

Wang learned by doing. They explored different two-dimensional and three-dimensional design software, and they learned how to sew to develop “a breathable outside layer” for the device. 

“I was able to gain so much knowledge about the medical and orthopedic rehabilitation field in general and also just learn random skills that I know will be helpful for me in the future, too,” says Wang. 

Upon his return home to China for Winter Break, Wang spent all his free time fine-tuning his project for the upcoming New Castle County Science Fair, in which he would be competing in the engineering category. 

As the science fair approached, Wang had to overcome a logistical hurdle, one that only a student attending boarding school would likely confront: How do you showcase a project that was developed on the other side of the globe? 

Wang calls the lead-up to the science fair a “chaotic“ time, as their disassembled project was shipped to St. Andrew’s from China, and they had to reassemble it on top of classwork, homework, afternoon activities, and all of the other responsibilities that come along with the St. Andrew’s experience. 

“It was really hard for me to find the time to put everything together and organize everything before the science fair,” says Wang. “I did have to stay up really late and wake up really early. It was a little bit hectic for me, but it was a really rewarding experience, finally seeing everything.”

Wang also credits his St. Andrew’s community with helping him with the little things as he prepped for the science fair, like running around campus trying to print all the materials for his poster. 

“I couldn’t have done anything without [the faculty who helped me],” says Wang. “Even though it’s an independent project, at the end of the day, it’s all those small things that other people around me helped me with that were really meaningful.”

In late March, Wang traveled to the Staton Campus of the Delaware Technical Community College for the fair, meeting other students from across the region and receiving helpful feedback from the judges. 

“It’s more than just a competition … but more of a socializing event and just being able to form those connections with like-minded people that are genuinely interested in STEM,” says Wang. 

Wang placed first in the engineering category, won the Agilent Special Award for Most Likely to Improve the Human Condition, and the FUJIFILM Special Award for Best in Show, advancing to the April 2-4 Delaware Valley Science Fairs. 

At this fair, Wang won the Office of Naval Research Naval Science Award and the West Pharmaceutical Services Engineering Award. Though this is the final fair that Wang will compete in this year, he says that this is not the end of the road for his research. 

“I still want to learn more about this area from different angles,” says Wang. “For example, maybe the biomedical angle to learn more about what can be done on the nanotechnology or micro-level. And then also more on the medicine, health side of things, like the anatomy of the knee. Knowledge in different areas can definitely help me create a more in-depth research project on top of what I already have. This is something that is going to be an ongoing process for me.”

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