Lebanon Reporter

November 9, 2013

Students share tech ideas

By Matt Werner For The Lebanon Reporter
Lebanon Reporter

---- — Zionsville — Imagine if any natural disaster could be avoided or at the very least mitigated.

Scientists have been working for years to try to solve that problem, but they may be getting a boost from a group of people in Zionsville — elementary school students.

Zionsville Community Schools, as part of the Eagle Recreation and Enrichment Program, have partnered with For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology’s (FIRST) Lego League to offer a robotics club at the elementary school level.

Matt Mulholland, a Zionsville Community High School teacher and coach of a robotics club team, said the program was on a trial basis last year at Eagle and Pleasant View elementary schools.

“Last year was a lot of success and a lot of fun,” he said. “We wrote a couple of grants for the Zionsville Education Foundation, and now we have 39 total robots not only for the club but for the (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program as well. Now kids will get to experiment with them in their classrooms as well.”

Six Zionsville teams will travel to Kokomo to compete in a the Lego League competition. Each team had to build a robot and program it to complete certain tasks, but the largest portion of the competition was designing a project to fit the theme. This year’s theme is natural disasters.

The Cyclone Cyclopes’ team, which includes members from Eagle, Stonegate, Union and Pleasant View elementary schools, came up with an idea to mitigate the power of a hurricane.

“We chose New Orleans for our community since they were hit by Hurricane Katrina,” said Eagle fourth-grader Jake Spolyar. “We were going to slow down a hurricane by buying a Russian typhoon class submarine because it can carry massive amounts of liquid nitrogen into the eye of the hurricane. Since a hurricane gather strength over warm water, we are going to release massive amounts of liquid nitrogen into the eye to cool the air and slow down the hurricane.”

Coach Steve Betz said a lot of research was done to determine the best way to slow down a hurricane.

“The kids had to research hurricanes and techniques for modifying weather,” he said. “One kid came up with the idea of liquid nitrogen. The theory is if we can cool enough of the air above the ocean, maybe we can slow down the hurricane and take what would be a Category 4 down to a Category 3.”

Betz said it was really fascinating to watch the kids work through the problem to find a possible solution.

“In ways, it’s really inspiring because they don’t know what can’t be done,” he said. “Some kids think that anything is possible and don’t understand actual constraints, limitations or boundaries. A lot of kids don’t have a concept of how big things are. There were some kids that didn’t think it would work because we’d need a submarine the size of a house, and in doing the research, they found out that there are submarines the size of houses. We try to encourage the kids to think really big.”

Betz said during their research of modifying weather, the team discovered Bill Gates had applied for a patent to mitigate hurricanes.

“The team wrote a letter to him explaining what we are doing,” Betz said. “Part of FIRST’s mission is to not only try to solve a real world problem but to share the solution with others.”

Betz said they also reached out to an elementary school in New Orleans as well as a public safety official in New Orleans.

“Hurricane Katrina caused $60 billion in damage,” he said. “If it costs us $1 billion to do this project, that’s a pretty good return on investment. By reducing the intensity of a hurricane, we can save hundreds of lives and billions of dollars of damage.”

Matt Mulholland, a Zionsville Community High School teacher and coach of the Tornado Tamers, said his team of students from Pleasant View, Stonegate, Eagle and Union elementary schools as well as one Zionsville Middle School student came up with a way to help people after tornado damage.

“The problem they came up with was after a tornado has gone through a community and wiped out hundreds if not thousands of homes, people are left without a place to stay,” he said. “They came up with a transport truck that will carry temporary towns. It would be a truck that can show up on site and build houses that can go up in 24 hours and give people a place to stay.”

Mulholland said the program is very important for the students.

“There is no better real-world educational experience than being presented with a problem and designing a solution to fix that problem,” he said. “That is what the league is all about. There isn’t anything you can do that can replace the real-world experience these kids are getting. There’s no simulation, worksheet, assignment that you can do that can equal that experience for the student.”