At the age of 16, Katherine Bomkamp saw a need in her community and decided to take the initiative to fix it.
Now Bomkamp, a West Virginia University political science freshman from Waldorf, Md., is the first WVU student to be inducted into the National Museum of Education’s National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors.
Her invention, which will help the world’s millions of amputees, is called “The Pain Free Socket.” The product incorporates thermal-bio feedback into prosthetics to eliminate phantom pain in amputees.
Phantom pain, the pain of a non-existent limb caused by the brain continuing to send signals and commands to the limb, affects 80 percent of the world’s 10 million amputees, she said.
“I incorporated thermal-bio feedback into the prosthetic socket, which is the concept of very controlled and concentrated heat, that heats up the severed nerve endings and it forces the brain to focus on the heat rather than send signals to the limb that is not really there,” she said.
The idea for the invention came when Bomkamp was prompted by her science teacher to develop a project worthy of the International Science and Engineering Fair.
Bomkamp’s father was in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years. He was last stationed at the Pentagon, which brought Bomkamp and her family to Maryland. She decided to focus her research on finding a solution to phantom pain after frequent visits to Walter Reed Hospital.
“Walking in there, it is gut-wrenching seeing all the very young amputees that are in the hospital,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do something to help eliminate and help some of the pain they were experiencing.”
Click below to hear Katherine Bomkamp talk about her invention.
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After two-and-a-half years of research and construction, Bomkamp has created a finished product that phantom pain researchers are confident will work, she said.
She recently applied for a patent for the product.
Currently, she is working with WVU’s Office of Technology Transfer to find funding options and discuss commercialization of the product.
“I have only been a WVU student for three months, and they have been incredibly helpful,” she said. “That is part of the reason why I chose to come here. I knew they had the resources to help me with this.”
Ultimately, her next goal is to get the product to the amputees.
“I hope that it will cure the pain they are experiencing,” she said. “For some people phantom pain is just annoying, but for others it is debilitating. I hope to adapt it to all prosthetic types and allow these people to live their lives as pain free as possible.”
She especially wants to help military amputees.
“They have already given up so much for our country, and they deserve all the advancements out there,” she said.
Despite having excelled in creating a workable device to help others, Bomkamp’s career goals don’t involve lots of science and engineering.
She hopes to attend law school and possibly go into corporate law, where she can continue to work with patents.
But, even though her future goals don’t involve inventing products, Bomkamp said she is always thinking of ways to fix problems.
“That is just the way my brain works,” she said.
In addition to being inducted into the National Gallery for America’s Inventors, in 2009 she placed fourth in the bioengineering and materials category of the International Science and Engineering Fair, and in 2010 she was recognized with an award from the International Council on Systems Engineering.
At the International Science and Engineer Fair, Bomkamp competed against students from all over the U.S. and more than 50 countries.
Bomkamp has received several other awards including the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research Award; U.S. Air Force Award; first place in the senior division of the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division; La Plata Lions Club Award; and several Charles County Regional Science Fair and North Point High School Fair awards.
For more information on the National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors, visit http://www.nmoe.org/ .
By Colleen DeHart
University Relations News
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