Mary Grace Murray brings a different perspective to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The incoming junior at Olentangy High School and STEM Academy will be recognized by the board of education on Thursday for her May performance at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh.
Murray was among the estimated 1,800 high school students from more than 75 countries, regions, and territories who showcased their projects. She designed a prototype tactile map to help visually-impaired people cross intersections, which earned her a $48,000 scholarship to the University of Arizona.
Murray herself has a visual impairment. She had retinopathy of prematurity, an eye disease that can cause blindness in premature babies. Despite seven different eye surgeries, the left eye could not be saved and only has light perception.
“I don’t really see a difference,” she said. “… I just kind of learn how to deal with it.”
Murray’s condition also makes it difficult for her to see things that are small. She uses a magnifying glass to increase the normal print of a textbook she’s reading for one of her classes at Columbus State Community College.
Murray got the idea for her science project from her orientation and mobility lessons, which include navigation of intersections. She noticed that each one had different accessible pedestrian signals for the visually-impaired.
Such systems, like the one recently installed at the intersection of Sandusky and William streets in Delaware, are not universal because government regulations are loose, she said.
Murray first discovered tactile maps as a way to improve APS systems from four orientation and mobility specialists at the Ohio State School for the Blind. She developed three prototypes using software and a 3D printer at the academy.
Murray then surveyed 30 people with visual impairments who interacted with one of her prototypes. The circular maps have grooves cut into them to indicate the intersections and crosswalks available to walk. There are print and Braille versions of the letter “N” to indicate north and a star as the current location marker.
“Simplicity is key,” Murray said.
During the fair in Pittsburgh, she made contacts with organizations such as the National Federation for the Blind and hopes those relationships will provide opportunities to further her research of tactile maps.
Murray had an interest in science and math since early childhood. She had aspirations to become a doctor or astrophysicist and loved to watch science documentaries. She was among the students who were part of the eighth grade pilot program that launched the STEM Academy, which she appreciated for its support of her map project.
“And I’m now more into engineering and physics and math and science,” she said.
The Olentangy junior has received other monetary awards including a $1,500 scholarship to The Ohio State University at Marion from a district science fair. And the National Center for Women & Information Technology, a national nonprofit organization that works to increase women’s participation in computing, awarded Murray a $500 grant for her interest and aptitude in computer science. The grant will be used to teach computer science to students at the Olentangy Shanahan Middle School.
Aside from academics, Murray participates in a Christian youth group and a robotics club.
She has not visited the University of Arizona, but her top college choices are now OSU and the University of Michigan. She’s interested in studying computer or electrical engineering, quantum physics, and math. After college, Murray would like to work for a company that’s involved with the space program or aerodynamics such as NASA.
“A lot of people who are visually-impaired don’t go into engineering because … it’s extremely visual,” Murray said.
Murray’s mother, Wendy, said she was proud of her daughter and said the STEM academy has done a fantastic job.
“These brains must skip a generation. I don’t even know half the stuff she’s talking about,” she said. “So she gets no help from mommy.”
But Mary Grace Murray’s family is supportive, including her grandmother, Sally Bashore.
Bashore, or “Gamma” as she’s called, helped her granddaughter with transportation to meet with the survey applicants, while Wendy works.
“It’s been a fun experience,” Bashore said. “… I’m glad she’s embraced her disabilities.”
Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.