Muskego — Four Muskego High School students could well have a United States patent on their inventions before they even graduate this spring.
They are the six engineering design and development students who swept the engineering category at the Badger State Science and Engineering Fair recently, capturing first through third places.
Their innovative projects weren't what you would expect from high schoolers. The first place winner is a silent alarm that will awaken even deaf people in time to go to work. Soon the device will be made to go off at the optimal time in the sleep cycle when the person will be the most refreshed.
The second-place project transforms salt water into healthful drinking water that's much more economical than the current desalination methods.
The third-place invention could make back and muscle aches a thing of the past for students and office workers who spend long hours sitting.
Patents are expected to be granted for all three projects.
The first-place winning project, titled "Predicting the Sleep Cycle to Improve the Wake-Up Experience," came about becauseMichael Chitko and Peyton Tebon will both head off to college soon. Mike said they wondered how they could wake up for class without also waking up their roommates.
Their solution was to solder tiny weights to motors only an inch or so long. The team made six of these that make a twin mattress vibrate and wake up the sleeper.
The hardest part was finding a circuit that would work with their alarm clock. Trying one design after another, the boys didn't hit on the right one until only a week before the regionals, Michael said.
Peyton said the experimentation was grueling and frustrating.
"But it helped us learn that you have to move on," he said.
The boys tested their mattress for eight nights using Michael's dad as test subject. The silent alarm worked every time.
The young researchers are now working on programming their silent alarm to go off during light REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. That's when you will awaken the most refreshed, Michael said.
The idea is to track vital signs. That in itself could be widened to T-shirts to help people keep track of their vital signs during exercise, Peyton said.
"It's a very useful thing," Peyton said.
Peyton plans to attend the Milwaukee School of Engineering and get degrees in bio-molecular engineering that will enable him to follow his dream.
"My dream has always been to do cancer research," he said.
Michael will head to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to study mechanical engineering.
The second-place project is "Clearwater S: desalinating water," and it also won three specialty awards — the CH2M Hill Award Best Environmental Engineering Project, the Water Environment Federation W.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize, and the International Sustainable World Energy Engineering and Environment Award.
Young Cameron Palmer and Alex Booton who did the project will now take it to the International Sustainable World Project Olympiad to be held in Houston, April 30 to May 5. The desalination project was the only one of the three that fit the Olympiad's environmental focus.
The world's overpopulation inspired the students to develop a new way to make drinking water out of the oceans of the world, Cameron said. The idea to use graphene as a filter came from an amazing U-tube video posted by a high school student in Serbia who claimed to have filtered fresh water from Coca Cola using a graphene filter.
The boys set to work making their own graphene filter only one atom thick.
To do that, they went to an art room, taking graphite art sticks that are compressed layers of graphene, Cameron said. He and Alex did magical things like swapping the polarity and changing the voltage to separate the layers.
The resulting filter removed 60 percent of the salt, Cameron said. "And that's just using the resources in school."
He and Alex are confident that by the time they go to Texas, they will have perfected the technique to produce better sheets that will filter out all the salt.
The two even hope to develop a cartridge that would make drinkable water out of any water source.
"It's much simpler and much more economical than reverse osmosis," Alex said. And oddly enough there was no research on using it for desalination, although there is plenty of research on using it for other things, he said.
Both he and Cameron will attend either MSOE or UW-Platteville and Alex will study environmental engineering and Cameron mechanical engineering.
The third place project, "Creating a Dynamic Seat to Improve Posture," actually emerged from self-observation.
"We noticed we had really bad posture in our chairs and we needed to fix that," said Alexander Ignasiak whose partner is Phillip Tadysak. For $10 more than the chairs the High School uses now, the new chair will tilt a bit in any direction as the one sitting in it shifts weight as they work or study.
"You always want to keep moving," to avoid stressing the lower back and to keep muscles from locking up from being in one position too long, Alexander said."The best posture is always the next posture."
To create their more healthful chair, Alexander and Phillip used a ball joint originally made for a pickup truck.
"It doesn't sound that hard to do," Phillip said. "But putting it into something that looks good and at the same time works well is hard."
When he graduates this spring, Phillip wants to be a firefighter. Alexander is looking forward to enrolling in UWM and studying mechanical engineering.
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