Liz Baker, a senior at University High School, was chosen as a semifinalist in the 2005-2006 Intel Science Talent Search, a prestigious national science contest. She was also named a Future Innovator of 2005 by Gov. Janet Napolitano. Baker is an intern at the Jane Goodall Institute's ChimpanZoo, and after observing chimpanzees for four months at the Los Angeles Zoo, she discovered a new vocalization she calls the "pant bronx cheer." All this, and she's not even in college yet.

Tell me about your science project.

I designed and built a therapy swing. I did that because I have a little sister who has autism, and I was introduced to swing therapy through her five or six years ago. The therapy swings that are out on the market are $700, $800, $900 even, so it's a ridiculous price to ask parents to pay to help their children. So we decided to start building our own, because we realized that there are much cheaper materials to build these with. I also have a little sister with (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and I was concerned about putting her on stimulant medication because of all the future ramifications that it brings. So while I was researching it, I found out that 96 percent of children with ADHD have a vestibular disorder, and the swing helps the vestibular system and stimulates it. So I kind of thought, well, the children are probably moving so much because they're trying to stimulate the deficiency in their vestibular system. So if they have a swing do it for them--won't that help them to concentrate better?


So I used 80 children of elementary school age. Forty of them had ADHD; 40 of them didn't, and I broke them down into a control group where 40 of them got to sit and play with me and color, and 40 of them got on the swing for 15 minutes. It turned out that the 40 kids who did have ADHD ended up improving significantly. They showed both improvement in their concentration and their focus, and I measured that by using a series of tests. I gave them four-letter words, 10 of them on a blackboard they had to copy, a standard classroom activity. I gave that as a pre-test and a post-test, and I would observe them, and I would write down every off-task behavior that they exhibited. So with that, I found that they showed significant improvement on the test as well as in not doing as many off-task behaviors. ... The only place that they didn't improve was time. But I kind of thought that that was good, because that meant they were taking their time a little bit more. I didn't think that was necessarily a negative thing.

Describe the swing a little bit. Was it tall?

The swing is a bar that works on a fulcrum system. There are two swings coming off of either side of it, and each of the swing's seats spins, and the bar spins as well. It gets a huge variety of movements out of it, so I figured that it would stimulate the vestibular system the best. The kids absolutely loved it, because it was like a carnival ride to them. It was a lot of fun. It requires probably about an 8- or 9-foot ceiling.

What are your college plans?

I'd like to go to the UA. I'm thinking I want to major in psychology and anthropology, with the intent of pre-law, I suppose, and some political science as well.

I hear you have a scholarship.

I'm a finalist for the Flinn Scholarship; that's a full ride to any in-state university, as well as travel money. It's a really great program. My interview's coming up the first weekend in March. They're cutting from 40 kids to 20, and the 20 are the ones who get it. It's a pretty rigorous interview process; I've already been to one, but I'm looking forward to it.

What do you do in your free time?

I really like to act. I'm in a production at the Valley of the Moon right now, called Champions of Magic, and I'm a cat pirate.

Cat pirate?

Yeah, it's pretty exciting. We get to sword fight, so I like that a lot. I'm also in my school drama class, and we're putting on a production the next week, after Valley of the Moon, so it's busy, but it's a lot of fun. I also really like to Scottish Highland dance. I've been doing it since I was 8. And science projects are a hobby, as dorky as that is. And I really like to hang out with my friends and socialize; it's senior year!

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