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Rothesay Netherwood School
Rothesay Netherwood School News
July 12, 2016

RNS Students Win Toshiba Exploravision North American Contest

The idea of creating a stronger bulletproof vest from a new type of metal 30 times stronger than Kevlar has won a group of Rothesay Netherwood students even more accolades after being named the North American winners of the Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVisioncontest.    Ore Alugo, Heather Chisholm, Matthew Morehouse and Alec Oland were one of 24 groups to originally be selected earlier this month but were dubbed the number one winners earlier this week.    The four of them have received a $10,000 savings bond each to put toward school and a full expenses paid trip to Washington to present their project nationally in June.    “It’s crazy, I kind of fell on the floor when we found out,” Morehouse said. “After seeing the videos from the other groups I didn’t really think we would win, maybe second place, but first place, I was amazed.”   The theme of the contest was to come up with an idea of how to make a form of technology better and what it might look like in 20 years.   Improving a bulletproof vest sprung upon the kids when they came across research online being done by manufacturing engineer Dr. Xiaochun Li and his team of scientists at the University of California Los Angeles.   His team recently developed a superlight metal composed mostly of magnesium, infused with a dense ceramic silicon, a thousand times smaller than a single hair and 30 times stronger than Kevlar.    Although they have not made it into a thread yet, it is possible, Li told the TelegraphJournal Wednesday.   “We are doing research not only for the wire applications proposed by the middle school kids but also the application of making electrical wires,” he said. “We are currently focused on a bigger scale, big bars of this metal material so that people can use them to draw the metal into fine wires.”   Normally, if metal is lightweight it doesn’t have strength but Li and his team have found that using nanoparticles to reinforce metal can make it stronger and able to take a much heavier load, Li said.   “Having lightweight and high strength is a solution for a lot of energy intensive applications such as lightweight vehicles and air planes,” he said. “For all the components that need kinetic movement, using lightweight materials can save energy.”   Although the concept of nanotechnology reinforced materials and metal has been around for decades, Li’s team is the first to realize nanoparticles can be selfdispersed so uniformly and so densely in metals to make it super strong, Li said.   “We are the first team to demonstrate that in the lab,” he said. “Our research discovers a pathway to make the manufacturing feasible.”   
However, the metal they created is not cheap, Li said.   “It’s not yet being used today but we are in the process of working with companies to get it into the practical world,” he said, adding some niche applications such as armoured vehicles and aerospace systems can benefit more from this technology at the moment. “Currently it is more expensive than regular metal because of the nanotechnology but, once we reach massive manufacturing scale, we think the price will drop significantly.”   In the meantime, the group of Grade 8 students from Rothesay Netherwood School are making their own prototype to showcase at the national science fair in Washington.   “We’re going to use steel wool and different layers to represent the different layers of the clothing,” Chisholm said in a group interview Tuesday at the school. “It won’t be the real thing but will look pretty similar.”   The four students now have the task of familiarizing themselves with everything on the topic prior to the national science fair in June. They are also working with their teachers to possibly have their idea patented, Chisholm said.   “Having an idea like this could benefit us in the future,” she said. “We could potentially sell it to people and make it a real thing, not just an idea. It’s in its early phase but we want to turn it into reality.” 




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