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Middletown Life

Mission: Possible

Apr 12, 2023 12:52PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Ken Mammarella
Contributing Writer

The Appoquinimink School District offers 25 career pathways in its high schools, culminating with an immersion experience in the senior year for students. One pathway is engineering, and Middletown High teacher Corey Hafer and Appoquinimink High teacher Stephen Landry recommended four teams to highlight. All engineering teams follow various goals.

They devote at least 50 hours to research and develop novel solutions to real-world problems.

They spend no more than $50 on supplies.

They connect with their assigned mentors at least six times.

They go through designs, maybe dozens.

They make prototypes.

They devise nifty names.

They create displays and practice pitches summarizing their work.

They dress up for an engineering design review for parents and other interested people.

But the semester-long class isn’t enough time to ensure their final prototypes work well or have the best features. Multiple students in these four teams wished they had more time to perfect their ideas. These are their stories.

Car Steppa: Clearing snow, easily

Three Appoquinimink High students confronted the potentially fatal projectiles of hardened snow that fly off vehicle roofs when they’re not cleared of snow. The solution from Ben Huffman, David Lubrano and Henry Herman is a piece of aluminum with a rubber pad that they call Car Steppa.

According to a survey they ran over an MOT Facebook page, half of the 300 respondents don’t always or never clear that snow. Of them, 74 percent said it’s because they had trouble reaching the snow.

Delaware’s General Assembly has discussed requiring snow-free vehicle roofs since 2014. Maryland legislators have also discussed the idea. With a law named after a woman who died in 2005 from such a projectile, Pennsylvania last year set up fines for drivers who don’t clear their roofs.

Huffman, who plans to major in computer science at the University of Delaware, and Lubrano (both 5-foot-7) and Herman (6 foot) drew more than 60 sketches as they developed a device that can boost users as much as 2.5 feet to clear the snow, because it’s the law or just the commonsense thing to do.

Their first prototype was made of ABS, a plastic often used in 3D printing. A proof-of-concept model followed in wood. And then they worked in aluminum, first by welding and then with screws, said Lubrano, who plans to major in business administration.

One part hooks into the door latch, and another, with a rubber pad to provide grip, is where the person clearing the snow plants a foot. The device could also be used when stowing surfboards or rooftop carriers, said Herman, who plans to major in mechanical engineering. And, if they pursued the idea more, they would want to make the Car Steppa foldable, for easy storage; longer than its current 7 inches, for greater comfort; and with ribbed rubber, for better traction.

They tested it on their vehicles but did not have a storm during class for testing it in snow.

Their mentor was Mark Parker, engineering manager at Eastern Shore Natural Gas.

Infinity Irrigation: Water no longer wasted

Three Middletown High students passionate about the environment and climate change worked on a device they called Infinity Irrigation. The problem, their research showed, is that 28% of the world’s annual water use is wasted by poor water management and irrigation systems. At the school greenhouse, that’s 20 gallons a day.

“We all have to do our part, even if it’s a little bit,” said Anna Kasper, who wants to pursue a STEM major in college.

They wanted the system to be cheap yet needing little maintenance and to keep the water from staining leaves or puddling, creating potential breeding grounds for fungi and bugs.

Their prototype included a frame that holds the water supply for four plants (700 milliliters, twice a day), a shallow funnel that collects excess water and a filter that removes soil particles and other contaminants so the cleaned and collected water can be reused.

Kasper and James Gatonye, who wants to major in electrical engineering at the University of Delaware, had worked together before, and they sought out someone with farming experience for the team. That was Luis Ruiz, who has not decided upon a major at Delaware Technical Community College and has seen how much water was wasted when he worked in greenhouses in Mexico.

They assigned themselves three tests: Did the water travel easily and not leak? Is the runoff at least 50 percent less than the current system? Did the filtering work? Infinity Irrigation passed all three.

They crafted their prototype out of PVC pipes, cardboard, duct tape, plastic sheets and a Brita pitcher. Since their design requirements also included food-grade, biodegradable and long-lasting materials, for five weeks they submerged some PLA (a plastic often used in 3D printers) in water to see if it lost mass or flexibility (no and no).

Their mentor was M. Emaad Fayaz, an environmental engineer at Verdantas.

Apogenius: Up, up and away (and down safely)

Since he was 6, Middletown High senior Giovanni DeCapua has enjoyed playing with model rockets. Jacob Koeppel also enjoyed model rocketry but gave it up for sports. That’s the background they brought to their project on rocket recovery.

Their problem is that model rockets fail 8% of the time (that’s according to research; DeCapua’s personal experience is higher). Most failures are caused by the recovery system, especially the parachute. And a failed rocket (which costs $20 to $80) is usually just some trash.

Their project was called Apogenius: Athena Rocket Recovery System. The name riffs off of apogee (the highest point the rocket reaches), genius (the smart engineering) and Athena (the Greek goddess of spinning, among many things).

The main goal was to get rid of the parachute, said DeCapua, who plans to major in aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University or West Virginia University.

To replace the parachute, which must be exactingly folded, they prototyped model rockets with rotating fins. The fins use Bernoulli’s principle, which explains how differences in air velocity and pressure keep real-size airplanes in the air – and hopefully slow down model rockets for smooth landings. The principle is also used for rotocopters, but rare for model rockets, said Koeppel, who plans to major in electrical engineering at Purdue University or the University of Illinois.

Their mentor was NASA engineer Rocco Bisceglia, who once lived across the street from DeCapua.

Wheelchair Press Arms: Easing muscle strain

A broken wheelchair left near the Appoquinimink High dumpster became the testing model for Wheelchair Press Arms.

To move nonmotorized wheelchairs, people strain their shoulders too far back as they reach for the hand rim. “It was difficult to find attempts, let alone solutions that solve this problem,” concluded the research by Appoquinimink High seniors Ryan Franco, Ryan Brisbane and Jake Holloway. They later were told some users push wheelchairs with their feet, which moves the strain to knees and ankles.

Their solution: L-shaped arms attached to wheelchair axles and manipulated like oars. Ratchets allow for the arms to push forward and slide backward with minimal drag. They calculated a 66% increase in the ideal mechanical advantage for their device.

They ran out of time to test it with users, Holloway said, but they got positive feedback at the review by someone who uses a wheelchair and a physical therapist.

They have already identified several improvements, such as making the arms have adjustable lengths and incorporating a switch so the arms also can be used to move backwards.

The wheelchair will be kept to inspire future students, said teacher Stephen Landry.

Franco and Holloway plan to major in mechanical engineering at the University of Delaware, where they might be roommates. Brisbane wants to major in computer science at UD.

Their mentor was Shawn Daly, a continuous improvement team leader at W.L. Gore & Associates.

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