PHOTO: From left to right, Aarush Tiyyagura, Joe Larson and Shawn Kumar sit with a model of wind turbines fitted with piezoelectric transducer to drive bats away.
BY LANDON WOODROOF
Three Kenrose Elementary School third-graders recently rocketed to the top 10 of a national NASA-sponsored science competition.
Shawn Kumar, Joe Larson and Aarush Tiyyugara were told this past Friday that their project had been chosen for the top 10 out of hundreds of entries for the NASA Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge.
The students are now looking to enlist the public’s help in voting for their project online. The contest website has listings for all of the top 10 finishers. The public will vote on a winner and those results will be reviewed and the winner formalized by a team of NASA judges on May 5. You can vote for a winner through May 1.
The top 10 projects are viewable in the form of a digital multimedia poster called a Glog. The Kenrose students are on Team 8. You scroll further down the page to vote.
Kumar, Larson and Tiyyugara’s project grew out of a desire to explore how to combat the Zika virus.
“They were actually starting off by trying to figure out how they could use bats to eat mosquitoes that were carrying the Zika virus,” Leila Larson, Joe’s mom, said.
Gradually, though, the idea morphed into something else as the students read more and more about bats.
“They continued learning about bats and as they were learning more about bats they realized a lot of bats were dying in windmills,” Larson said.
This realization led them to their top 10 project: a piezoelectric transducer that could be placed on a wind turbine to deter bats from flying into it. According to the students’ contest Glog, a piezoelectric transducer is a “device that emits ultrasonic waves using power.” Bats can detect those ultrasonic waves, but humans can not.
The students chose to use their transducers on windmills because windmills are a unique threat to bats, according to the Glog.
“More than 1,000 bats die every year because of windmills,” the students wrote. “When bats fly near the windmill, echolocation deceives them and they think it is a tree (where they mate and collect food). Once they are close enough to a moving turbine blade, they either fly into the windmill, or the air pressure changes so rapidly, their lungs explode.”
The idea behind the competition is for teams to change “an everyday object into something that will make the world a better place.” That is similar to the nature of NASA spinoffs. As the contest site outlines, “NASA spinoffs are technologies originally created for space and modified into everyday products used here on Earth-including memory foam, invisible braces, firefighting equipment, artificial limbs, scratch-resistant lenses, aircraft anti-icing systems, shoe insoles, water filters/purification, cochlear implants, satellite television, and long-distance telecommunications.”
Contest winners get to go to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center where they will get to enjoy “two days of in-depth, behind the scenes, hands on workshops with scientists and astronauts.” Winning teams also receive a $4,000 stipend to cover expenses.