Girl wins trip to NASA space centre with invention to help parents care for disabled brother


A desire to help her father and mother caring for her disabled brother has motivated a young Melbourne inventor to take out a coveted national science prize which has won her a week at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

With her Year 3 and 4 classmates watching on, eight-year-old Amelia Fox was announced as the winner of the Australian 'Little Big Idea' competition – in the process netting a week at NASA's space centre in Florida.

A fist-pump and broad smile the response upon learning of her win which includes a trip to the space centre valued at $10,000.

"It felt really good and I was definitely not expecting it," Amelia said.

Simplicity is the key to the portable, fabric wheelchair hoist.

It may look like a few pieces of carefully arranged fabric but it has the capacity to change lives.

The hoist was designed initially to help Amelia's parents move her 11-year old brother Jake who lives with a disability.

"I'm pretty sure it'll help them a lot - most children struggle to lift their children," Amelia said.

Wheelchair-bound Jake weighs almost 40 kilograms and is moved manually several times each day.

After he had surgery months ago, Amelia finalised the hoist idea which she said had been on her mind for a couple of years.

"A few days after the metal plates were put in Mum and Dad were struggling because the metal plates were quite heavy," Amelia said.

Amelia and Jake's mother Kate Fox recently had neck surgery and said her daughter's invention would make lifting Jake safer, quicker and more efficient.

"So to just be able to lift up the cushion will save a ridiculous amount of time and importantly - let you do it by yourself," Ms Fox said.

Competition judge and engineer Dr Jordan Nguyen says like many children's inventions, simplicity is the key.

"It's just an extra piece of material that's just cleverly designed to then wrap up connect up to the hoist and allow easy lifting - it's a very simple, beautiful approach," Dr Nguyen said.

He also believes the invention may have commercial applications through the rehabilitation and aged care sectors.

"Because of the simplicity of this design I think it has the legs to get out on the market within about half a year," he said.

But for Amelia and her family, the hoist represents far more than a potential money-spinner.

"Obviously this prize is something that she'll cherish but for us as parents we're just so proud that she could use Jake as the inspiration for such a creative idea," Ms Fox said.

At the age of eight, it is early days to be deciding on careers but Amelia is leaning toward becoming a vet - not an engineer or inventor.

But she is looking forward to the NASA visit - and there's one activity in particular she is most keen on. 

"I'm a little more excited about having lunch with an astronaut," she said.

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