Port Hills fires in­spires Thimeth’s win

Christchurch Mail - - YOUR LOCAL NEWS - ANNA PRICE

As wild­fires raged across the Port Hills in Fe­bru­ary, school­boy Thimeth Wi­jesinghe, 13, was glued to the tele­vi­sion news.

It was more than just the spec­ta­cle that cap­tured his in­ter­est. It spawned an idea for this year’s school sci­ence fair.

He wanted to know what fire re­tar­dants were used.

‘‘I found they were chem­i­cal and harm­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and the in­for­ma­tion also said they were not ef­fec­tive, he said.’’

Thimeth set out to find a non­toxic and more ef­fec­tive way of fight­ing fires.

His re­search has won the cov­eted Can­ter­bury School Sci­ence Fair award for the Wry­bill Tro­phy from En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury, for over­all win­ner, Best of the Best, against fierce com­pe­ti­tion from all ages. The awards were judged by Dr Jonathan Hick­ford of Lin­coln Univer­sity.

Thimeth, a Cob­ham In­ter­me­di­ate School stu­dent, read that corn starch had a ‘non-New­to­nian’ prop­erty, that is, when the corn starch mix­ture is put in to mo­tion, it can change its form from solid to a liq­uid, un­like a nor­mal liq­uid which re­mains in the same form. This spe­cial prop­erty could be used in fire fight­ing.

‘‘I thought this would be a good idea be­cause corn starch is also biodegrad­able,’’ he said.

He started test­ing corn starch so­lu­tion on ma­te­ri­als, com­par­ing speed of ig­ni­tion us­ing other ev­ery­day home prod­ucts like bak­ing soda and bo­rax as re­tar­dants.

It out-per­formed all the prod­ucts, prov­ing the most ef­fec­tive re­tar­dant and ex­tin­guisher.

‘‘It can stick to sur­faces. Ap­plied in real world sit­u­a­tions, it could be used in fire fight­ing hoses at the right pres­sure, he said.

‘‘I was think­ing how could we put this into a prod­uct and use it as a re­tar­dant in a ru­ral area like the Port Hills es­pe­cially in hot sum­mer months.’’

Thimeth was rapt to take out the top award and gave credit to his teacher An­nie Bowker.

‘‘To get it was re­ally awe­some. In Cob­ham, they teach sci­ence se­ri­ously. It’s com­pul­sory. That’s why they do so well.’’

Thimeth, of Sri Lankan her­itage, said his mother also guided him. ‘‘She’s a re­ally good mum.’’

He en­joys re­search. ’’I might work for En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury one day.’’

He some­how fits bad­minton, cricket, ta­ble ten­nis, mu­sic (clar­inet and trum­pet) into his life.

‘‘I find time for ev­ery­thing,’’ he said.

ANNA PRICE

Thimeth Wi­jesinghe, 13 at home in Burn­side with Mar­van, his 2-year-old golden re­triever.

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