A Budding Young Scientist
A north Texas junior high schooler was awarded first place in the Behavior and Social Sciences and Best of Fair categories at the Fort Worth Regional Science & Engineering Fair in February.
Ella Bennett, 14, a Trivium Academy student and native of Plano used sophisticated eye-tracking technology from Texas A&M’s Human Behavior Lab in her winning science fair project.
She heard about the lab’s eye-tracking equipment from her father, who works at Texas A&M. She said she immediately wondered if the technology could be used help children with dyslexia.
“The first thing that came to mind was dyslexia because dyslexia has always been a big part of my life,” she said. “So, I told my dad ‘I wonder if people with dyslexia look at words and sentences differently while they’re reading.’”
Ella and her dad contacted the lab’s director, Dr. Marco Palma, to arrange to use the lab’s equipment for an experiment Ella designed.
The experimental design was simple yet effective – use the eye-tracking equipment to compare how two girls diagnosed with dyslexia and two girls without dyslexia read the same material.
What she found was that students without dyslexia just skim over the words while the students with dyslexia read every single word, which explains why students with dyslexia take longer to read.
“We ended up finding out that the students without dyslexia use their peripheral vision to pick out the most important words and they leave out the ends of the paragraphs,” Ella said. “We saw that when the students with dyslexia read they look at every single word and every single letter in the sentence.”
Ella said the eye-tracking technology from the Swedish company, Tobii, allowed her to see for the first time how she reads is different from other students her age.
“It’s really the technology that made me have the question,” she said. “After we read all the girls said ‘oh, that is how I read!’ and they had never really thought about that.”
The lab’s director thinks highly of the young scientist.
“At our lab, we collaborate with researchers from around the world and Ella stands out because she is the youngest scientist we have worked with,” said Palma. “I think she has a very bright future in science ahead of her and we are all very proud of her.”
Ella is invited to compete in a national science fair later this year.