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What do horses with asthma and a national science fair in Washington, D.C., have in common? Answer: Emma and Sarah Simmons, eighth-grade twin sisters from Mother Seton School in Emmitsburg. These 13-year-olds of Carroll Valley, Pennsylvania, were recently selected as two of the Top 300 Broadcom Masters in the 2022 STEM competition held in Washington, D.C. Their win at the Top 300 Broadcom Masters competition locates them in the top 2 percent of middle schoolers in the country and makes them eligible to participate in the Top 30 Broadcom Masters this autumn.

The engineering project that caught the attention of judges in the nation’s capital was titled, “A Portable Bronchodilator Delivery System for Equine Inflammatory Respiratory Diseases.” Emma and Sarah, daughters of Dr. A. Jeffrey Simmons and Dr. Lisa S. McLeod-Simmons, began their project last autumn when they were in seventh grade at Mother Seton School. They explained that the purpose of their biomedical invention is to develop a portable bronchodilator delivery system that allows a horseback rider to administer pharmaceutical therapies to a horse suffering from a sudden onset of severe Equine Asthma Syndrome or other respiratory diseases without having to dismount or return to the stable.

“We ride horses,” Emma said, “and one of the horses we ride has asthma. Sometimes when we rode, we could see the horse struggling to breathe.”

 Sarah continued, “Then we would have to dismount and take the horse back to the barn for him to cool down and for his owner to give him medicine. Seeing this made us think about what would happen if we were farther away from the stable and not near the asthma medicine.”

 “So, Sarah and I began thinking about how to solve the problem,” said Emma, who is interested in a career in equine veterinary medicine and research. “How could we make riding a horse that had a respiratory disease, but was otherwise healthy, safer for the horse and for the rider?”

 “And what we engineered was the portable bronchodilator delivery system,” noted Sarah, who is planning to study either biomedical or aerospace engineering. “The unit is small and portable and can easily deliver emergency medicine whenever needed without the rider having to dismount. It’s a manual system, so it doesn’t require electricity like a mask inhaler or a muscular injection. And, it can be used in any weather.”

Emma and Sarah won their school STEM fair’s top seventh-grade project and the school’s best overall award last fall for this project. They then advanced to the Frederick County STEM fair early this spring, where they won top honors in the biomedical engineering category, as well as several other county science fair awards.

Their project was then nominated to participate in the national level Top 300 Broadcom Masters STEM competition. There were nearly 2,000 entries in this competition from the top 10 percent of middle school students in the country. On September 7, 2022, Broadcom Masters announced that a panel of judges, comprised of engineers, scientists, and educators from around the United States, had selected Emma and Sarah Simmons as two of their Top 300 young engineers and scientists across the country.

“We were so excited when our mother told us we had placed in the Broadcom Masters,” Sarah commented.” It’s an amazing feeling to work so hard on a project and then to have that work recognized. Emma and I thank the Frederick County STEM fair and Broadcom Masters for giving us this opportunity.” Emma added, “And we are so grateful to our parents; our teachers, Mrs. Kuykendall and Mrs. Beard; and our church family at Trinity UMC in Emmitsburg, who have always been so supportive. We really are blessed.”

Sarah Simmons (left) and Emma Simmons (on the horse) demonstrate their Portable Bronchodilator Delivery System used to administer asthma medicine to horses.

Twin sisters Emma and Sarah Simmons’s love of horses has led them to the winner’s circle at the Frederick County Science and Engineering Fair. Their invention, “Portable Bronchodilator Delivery System for Equine Inflammatory Respiratory Diseases,” garnered them several awards, including: the Overall Middle School Grand Prize; 1st place in the Middle School Biomedical Engineering category; the Broadcom Masters Top Prize (Broadcom Masters is affiliated with the Society for Science); the Hively Family Inventor Award; the Lemelson Early Inventor Prize (sponsored by the Lemelson Foundation.The Broadcom Masters top prize includes an invitation to the national competition in Fall 2022.

The seventh graders engineered a device that delivers medication to a horse with equine inflammatory respiratory disease. This device is unique because it allows a rider to administer the medication while remaining mounted. Typically, horses are given medicine for diseases, such as asthma, through an intramuscular injection or an electric nebulizer, which requires that the horse be taken to a stable or veterinarian. The nebulizer treatments require electricity to operate the compressor, and the horse is kept still and quiet during administration since the horse is required to wear a mask.

“We are incredibly proud of Emma and Sarah,” said Mother Seton School Principal Kathleen Kilty, Ph.D. “The ingenuity and hard work that went into this project are impressive.”

The sisters’ invention has many potential applications, such as for mounted police engaged in urban crowd control, farming and ranching, and equestrian eventing. In these situations, if a horse becomes respiratory compromised, emergency medication cannot easily or safely be administered. With the system Emma and Sarah engineered, the life-saving medication can be delivered by the rider without the rider dismounting. 

“It is an amazing achievement for Emma and Sarah,” said their mother, Lisa McLeod-Simmons, Ph.D. “It also highlights what a great school Mother Seton is, that students are not only ’taught’ science, but they are taught to ‘do’ science.”

Mother Seton School announces Emma and Sarah Simmons, grade 7, as Overall Middle School Grand Prize winners of the 41st Annual Frederick County Science and Engineering Fair for their invention, “Portable Bronchodilator Delivery System for Equine Inflammatory Respiratory Diseases.”