Improving the future one invention at a time
Six West Linn-Wilsonville high school students were selected to compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) this month, three of whom placed first in their respective categories at a district science fair in March.
At regionals, Wilsonville High School senior Nathan Tidball placed first in the chemistry category for his invention of an antimicrobial plastic that kills bacteria. West Linn High School senior Pooja Jain and sophomore Neel Jain also placed first in electrical and mechanical engineering for their invention of a search-and-rescue drone.
WL-WV District finalists Tidball, the Jain siblings, Rishima Mukherjee and Marlee Feltham, Jessica Yu and student observers Sophia Nielsen and Anna Nielsen were chosen from the WL-WV CREST-Jane Goodall Science Symposium — an ISEF-affiliated competition hosted at WHS in March — to travel to Phoenix for ISEF May 12-17.
The selected students will have the opportunity to compete with more than 1,500 students from more than 80 countries. The Nielsens were selected to attend ISEF but not compete.
"It's always the most memorable experience (of) that year: Going to ISEF is very cool," said Tidball, who has had a project advance to internationals all four years of high school.
Last year, Tidball placed third in the environmental engineering category and received $1,000 for his project on aiding the water-filtration process.
Pooja and Neel, though working as separate scientists last year, both advanced to internationals as well. Neel was a student observer and Pooja received a full-ride scholarship of $250,000 to Drexel University, the Agni First Place Award for $1,000 and honorable mention from the International Council on Systems Engineering for her project: a low-cost, adaptable emergency communication Wi-Fi mesh networking system designed to allow users to connect to a chatroom with any Wi-Fi device for communication purposes.
"I had so much fun meeting new people from all around the world," Pooja said. "Throughout
the week, I had no shame in geeking out with my fellow scientists about various topics."
"I loved meeting new people, seeing all these projects and experiencing the fair at a whole new level," Neel added. "It was certainly a lot of fun and many of the friends I made last year, I have just recently found out that they are now finalists this year as well ,so I'll get to go back and see them again."
Last summer, Tidball job shadowed at 3D Systems in Wilsonville and after looking at the company's 3D printing processes — coupled with his goal of becoming a chemical engineer — he decided he wanted to develop a product they could use.
Tidball invented three antimicrobial compounds, which have the ability to kill bacteria. He then used ultraviolet light to turn the compounds into acrylic plastic coatings.
"I successfully turned two of my three novel antimicrobial compounds into plastics. The photoinitiator, which I added to the antimicrobial compounds, adsorbs UV light, turning the liquid antimicrobial compounds into a solid plastic," Tidball said. "Thus, my antimicrobial compounds can be coated to any surface as a liquid and UV light will cure it into hard plastic."
Tidball added that this method is currently used in industrial 3D printers and his antimicrobial compounds could be incorporated into these printers.
"My molecules would be ink or filament for 3D printers, so any structure can be 3D printed out of my antimicrobial plastic," he said. "A porous filter can easily be 3D printed using my antimicrobial compounds. This passive filter will sterilize any solution passing through it. This can revolutionize the water sanitation industry."
The plastics Tidball invented can disinfect surfaces quickly, killing mold and bacteria on items like sponges and cutting boards. His plastics even kill the deadly bacteria MRSA when it comes into contact with the plastic.
"Antibiotic resistant bacteria are a growing and dangerous issue. My plastics incorporate multiple novel antimicrobial agents, so these deathly microbes can't spread," Tidball said. "In a medical setting or domestically at home, I wanted to prevent illness and the spread of infection. The product I developed did just that. It's very cheap and easy to incorporate. Lethal microbes can no longer live dormant (on) door handles, implants and cooking products."
Another upside to Tidball's creation, he says, is that his product is better for the environment because it's self-contained. The plastic won't degrade or release chemicals into its surroundings and it kills the bacteria upon contact.
Pooja and Neel decided to combine their skills and passion for helping others to craft their invention.
"I think doing this project together, it was really a good experience to work with him because he taught me things that I didn't really know was necessary for computer coding and I am really proud to have had that opportunity to share something that excites both of us with him," Pooja said.
"I'm more of a hands-on builder and I love taking things apart and then putting them back together to see how they work," Neel added. "My sister is very good at coding, a lot better than I am. I rely on her to write the code necessary to get our system up and running and she relies on me to design and assemble any other components needed to make sure our project is functional."
Pooja and Neel's search-and-rescue drone, SkyHound, which aids emergency services by locating natural disaster victims, uses Wi-Fi signals given off by smartphones to obtain their whereabouts.
"The idea is that if we can locate the smartphones, then most likely we can assume the owners will be nearby these phones, given that most people in today's world will be carrying a phone around with them," Neel said. "Based on the project, we were able to accurately identify and
locate a number of phone signals in our neighborhood, which proves that our system functions correctly to detect smartphones in any given area."
In order to pick up the Wi-Fi signals, the Jains' current prototype has a radius of about 26 feet, and the antenna used can be changed to meet the needs of any situation — a strong antenna can be attached to the drone to create a wider radius.
Their invention is also cost effective.
"With the inclusion of the remote, our entire specific design is about $306," Pooja said. "To put that in perspective, the most basic and cheapest DJI drone starts at $1,000. We saved hundreds of dollars, as well as have the capability to make our own unique modifications, just by creating our own drone."
While the Jains' were honored to receive first place and advance to internationals, their real reward is the opportunity to learn how to serve the public better, they said.
"We are just two people out of a region of 2 million," Pooja said. "Going into a place filled with people in similar backgrounds gives us room to make improvements about how our design can be better, more adapted to the needs of the public and (it) lets us learn about what we should incorporate into our future devices."
Click here to see how other students did at the state level competition.