Port Hills fires inspires Thimeth’s win
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.
Thimeth Wijesinghe, 13 at home in Burnside with Marvan, his 2-year-old golden retriever.