MINNETONKA — “Bubble butt” is a hard phrase to take seriously, but one senior from Minnetonka High School is trying to fix a very serious problem attached to the phrase.

Gabriela Miranda is one of five U.S. awardees of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair Award for her project “Engineering Weighted 3D Printed Vests for Sea Turtles with Bubble Butt Syndrome.”

Bubble Butt Syndrome, according to The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida, can happen when a sea turtle is hit by a boat and air is trapped somewhere in between the turtle’s shell and the rest of its body. The turtle then floats and cannot swim properly.

Miranda explained that Bubble Butt Syndrome is currently treated by pulling sea turtles with the condition out of the ocean and attaching weights with epoxy to the turtle’s shell so the turtle can properly submerge and swim. But turtles shed layers of their shells causing the weights to slide off, so the rescued turtles can never be returned to the wild and they have to have the weights reattached again and again. According to Miranda, this process is quite stressful for the turtles.

“My project was to figure out a way to allow them to shed without having to change the weights over and over again,” Miranda said.

Miranda first encountered this problem when she was living in Florida and when she joined Minnetonka High School’s research course she decided her yearlong project would be finding a solution to Bubble Butt Syndrome.

Miranda’s solution took her to the annual State Science and Engineering Fair, where she was recognized for her project and will now travel to the International Science and Engineering Fair in Arizona from May 12-17.

“I have made two vest models — one of them that has a strap and the other one that clips under the shell — and I’ve tested it out on a mud turtle without weights and it had plenty of space for shedding, so that’s considered pretty good and now I’m testing a few different materials,” Miranda said.

Miranda said with her vest, sea turtles could, theoretically, be returned to the wild — with trackers to gather information and pull the turtles out again if necessary — where they could continue their natural life.

Miranda wasn’t able to work directly with a sea turtle but her research teacher obtained a mud turtle for her, one without Bubble Butt Syndrome. She then created two smaller models of the two different vests which were printed by one of the two 3D printers in the Minnetonka Research Lab. These models did not contain the weights that the sea turtles’ vests would have because the mud turtle doesn’t have Bubble Butt Syndrome and does not need to be weighted down.

Thus far, her research has been successful and she is conversing with a researcher in Hawaii to create a larger prototype for a sea turtle, which she will then send to Hawaii to be tested.

Her current prototypes are in the process of being patented with the hopes that she can continue her project after she graduates from Minnetonka High School in June.

Miranda will go to the University of Notre Dame in the fall and has already been in conversation with the university about continuing her research.

“They have offered several different opportunities there that I could get involved with to continue my research,” Miranda said. “One of them was actually traveling with a professor to the Galapagos, which I would love to do.”

Miranda plans to see her project through, even past her June 2019 graduation date at Minnetonka High School. She’s not sure if she will continue to focus on marine life past the project, but says her favorite part of engineering is how it can be applied to anything.

Frances Stevenson is a reporter for the Lakeshore Weekly News, covering the communities around Lake Minnetonka.

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