Nanotech students headed to London
LANSDALE >> Eight North Penn High School engineering students will represent their country at an international technology conference in London next month.
And their experiments in enhanced batteries, green energy, and wireless electricity transmission are just part of what students at North Penn’s Engineering Academy are working on these days, according to teacher Mike Boyer.
“We are the first school to represent the United States at this international conference, and we’re so lucky to have this opportunity,” said Boyer.
North Penn’s Engineering Academy program offers a fivecourse introduction for students to learn the basics of engineering — and for the teams heading to London, much more than the basics. A total of nine teams
comprised of 27 students presented their projects to a panel of school administrators last week, Boyer told the board, and the top three teams were chosen to attend the International Science Conference at St. Paul’s School in London in March.
Team In Novo, comprising students James Drinkwater and Jake Yoder, showed the board their results so far in testing advanced battery separators — materials used to separate components within batteries that could increase their efficiency.
“We want to revolutionize it. We want to take that battery separator in the battery and, instead of it wasting energy on heat and anything
else, and deterioration while recharging, we want to make it more durable, not overheat, and we want to make sure that the power is more efficient and more constant,” said Drinkwater.
The team has tried several different types of nonporous polymers meant to better regulate the flow of power between anodes and cathodes within batteries, and now are looking into different ways of preparing those materials.
“We thought of a new idea, a new variable we could test, which is weaving the nanofibers,” said Yoder.
“Currently, when you electro spin, the nanofibers line up randomly, and the spaces in between the nanofibers are also random, they’re inconsistent. So by weaving them, we could make the spaces in between, the porosity, more
consistent,” he said.
Team Nano Energy Technologies, consisting of students Anthony Brigidi, Jason Ellstrom and TJ Schmidt, told the school board how they plan to use nanotechnology to harvest renewable energy from weather, from temperature differentials, and from sunlight. Piezoelectric materials can convert vibrations into energy, Brigidi told the board, so solar shingles that are hit by rainfall and vibrate could be used to generate electricity, even during rain.
“Another way is thermoelectric, and that harvests by temperature differential. So in the summer, it’s hot outside, but you have the air conditioning on inside, so there’s a temperature difference,” said Schmidt.
The team has also investigated photovoltaic materials, which are the primary ingredient in solar
cells, and showed the board a video of a solar cell kept in the shade, and then exposed to sunlight, and an attached voltage meter jumped when the cell was exposed to sunlight.
“Our plan for London is to have all three materials researched, so we still have to do piezo- and thermoelectric, and by the end of the year, once we have all three down, we would like to improve the efficiency of how they harvest electricity,” Schmidt said.
A third student team, NasTek, comprising of students Aaron Dietterich, Engy Khoshit, Scott Schrum and Noah Wendt, studied transfers of wireless energy based on experiments by students at MIT.
“For all of us who have had an electronic device, the common problem is always an unnecessary number of wires that we always
have everywhere. We’re always breaking them, tripping over them, having to replace them — and a solution to this would be wireless energy,” said Wendt.
Using oscillators with coils attached to a power source and to an object they’re trying to power — in their test case, a light bulb — the team was able to transmit electricity wirelessly, and is now experimenting with adding coils and changing their shapes.
“We proved that adding a third coil doubled the voltage and the distance. But what if we change the shape of the coil in the middle? Would it increase or decrease the voltage?” Khoshit said.
Refining those experiments, and identifying the results, will be what students work on for the rest of the school year, and Boyer said the teams will present their results in a series of public presentations on stage at the high school to meet class requirements.
“These students are going to be presenting their research, completely unscripted, and with some pretty amazing, cuttingedge stuff that I can’t wait for you to see,” Boyer said.
“Here we are in January. Wait until June.”
The North Penn Nanotech team has started a Go Fund Me page with the goal of raising $30,000 to cover the costs of their trip to London; to donate visit www.GoFundMe.com and search for “NPHS Nano Presentation in London.”
Students and instructor Mike Boyer from North Penn High School’s Engineering Academy spoke to the district’s school board about projects they will be discussing at a science conference in London in March. They are, from left, Noah Wendt, Engy Khoshit, Scott Schrum, Jake Yoder, instructor Boyer, James Drinkwater, TJ Schmidt, Jason Ellstrom and Anthony Brigidi.