Besides being an outstanding scholar, Emerson Harris of Southport is also a trained ballet, jazz and tap dancer. So when it came time to select a project for the 2021 Maine State Science Fair, she tapped into her experience as a dancer to win first place in the Biomedical and Health Sciences category.
As a ballet dancer, Harris wanted to better understand the short-term pain she gets from her point ballet shoes. Harris’ goal was learning how this may lead to long-term deformities. She researched problems experienced by ballerinas and found undistributed pressure in misaligned toes contributes to long-term foot deformities. In her science fair project, Harris designed a new type of point ballet shoe to address her foot issues. “I found this was a pretty big factor in the pain experienced by ballerinas,” Harris said. “So I designed a custom pad which minimizes those factors and hopefully decreases long term problems.”
Harris filled an empty space in her shoe with a specially designed pad. She created a custom pad using molds of her foot and point shoe. She tested her hypothesis by placing carbon paper in her shoe and using an electronic pressure sensor. Her experiment, a side-by-side test, showed a significant improvement with the custom pad; it better distributed the pressure compared to the standard pad.
“I made a mold of my foot alignment outside the shoe and made sure it aligned and then stuck in clay in the on-point position. This encourages proper alignment in the mold and decreases problems,” she said.
During the April 3 virtual Maine State Science Fair, Emerson won several honors: Biomedical and Heath Science Award, Communicating Your Science Video Award, University of Maine Top Scholar Award, and scholarships to the College of Atlantic, University of Southern Maine, University of Maine and University of New England. What she enjoyed most about her project was it combined two of her favorite activities: Dance and science.
Her project may have a practical future application. She may patent the design. Harris had a more experienced ballerina dance with the specially designed shoe. “She felt less cramped with the special shoe, better alignment and a more supportive point,” Harris said. As for college plans, Harris isn’t sure what school she will attend or what career she will pursue. “I love STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and dance. I would love to do either later in life,” she said.
Harris is junior class president and president of the Boothbay Region High School Interact Club. Besides being an avid dancer, she is a youth dance teacher. On Mondays, she teaches three youth groups dance, tap and jazz at Boothbay Region YMCA. Harris describes her role as a teacher as her favorite part of her passion for dance. “I love teaching. I teach 4-6 year olds tap and ballet, 7-10 year olds ballet and jazz, and 10-14 year olds tap and jazz. And I really love doing all choreographing,” she said. Harris also participates in math and cross country teams.
So how does she find time to devote to so many activities? “I don’t know. I guess I’m a go-go-go type of person,” she said.