Tue, Nov 20, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Students dream of future in contest

UNDISCOVERED PROBLEMS A design competition for high-schoolers encouraged them to 'think outside the box' and come up with innovative ideas and technologies

By Meggie Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN KAOHSIUNG

Imagine a world where cars fly, sushi plates float in the air, fires are put out minutes after they start and bones never ache from the impact of walking and running.

These were all possibilities created by high school students from around the country in the sixth annual Innovative Design Competition Using High Temperature Superconductors for Magnetic Levitation.

The competition, hosted by the National Science Council (NSC) at Kaohsiung's National Science and Technology Museum, saw 36 teams from Taiwan showcasing their projects in the final on Sunday. A team from Japan's Waseda University Affiliated Honjo High School was also invited.

The teams had eight months to prepare their exhibits.

"Our vision was to encourage students to prepare for jobs that don't yet exist, to use technologies not yet invented and solve problems we don't yet know about," said In-Gann Chen (陳引幹), a material science and engineering professor at Cheng Kung University and the moderator of the competition.

He was quoting US high school administrator Karl Fisch, whose Internet video Did You Know has received worldwide attention.

"The competition was designed to foster an informal education setting where students could learn by doing," Chen said.

High temperature superconductor magnetic levitation (HTS maglev) was the cornerstone of the competition.

Maglev is a technology in which objects are suspended in the air using only magnetic fields. HTS maglev uses superconductors in subzero temperatures; "HTS" refers to the relatively high temperature required when using li-quid nitrogen instead of helium.

Traditionally helium was the refrigerant used in HTS maglev, but in 1988 Wu Maw-kuen (吳茂昆), director of the Institute of Physics at Academia Sinica, and his partner Paul Chu (朱經武) made HTS maglev commercialization feasible by replacing costly helium with the much cheaper liquid nitrogen, an innovation that won them the Comstock Prize.

"The competition allows students to think outside of the box," National Science Council Deputy Minister Yang Hung-duen (楊弘敦) said.

He praised Heping High School's HTS maglev car, which required only front wheels because the rest of the car floated. That entry won the Intel Think Tool prize.

Maglev cars are fuel-conservative since there is little friction, said Honjo team captain Satoru Wakabayashi, whose team also entered a maglev car in the competition.

Zhonglun High School's HTS maglev artificial joint was inspired by team captain Liang Ching-hung's (梁敬泓) mother, who has rheumatoid arthritis, team spokesperson Lee Kuang-li (李光立) said. The school was a runner-up in the competition.

"With HTS maglev technology, we can have an air joint instead of padding between two bones to prevent wear and tear during movement," Lee said.

Although the subzero temperature in HTS maglev limits the pro-ject's human applications, it opens the possibility for medical breakthroughs when the technology matures, Lee said.

Competition winner Ger-jyh High School's automatic fire hydrant system, which also won third place for Most Creative Entry, was a system that utilized a hose with a HTS maglev plug fixture, team captain Tsai Cheng-ta (蔡承達) said.

When a fire starts, the liquid nitrogen that stabilizes the plug evaporates and mixes with oxygen and puts out part of the fire, Tsai said. When enough nitrogen has evaporated, the plug loosens and water comes out of the hose to put out the fire completely, he said.

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