Public vote will decide if Northern engineering students win

Dec. 07, 2012 @ 05:31 PM

Five students from Jeff Arthurs’ honors engineering class at Northern Vance High School have been selected as finalists for N.C. State University’s Emerging Issues Prize for Innovation.

The prize, presented by the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State, challenges students across the state to unleash their imagination, and work collaboratively to create an innovative product or tool that may benefit their classmates, neighborhoods or group within the community.

Public online voting in February will help determine the winner.

The group of engineering students has developed a product called Sirocco, designed to dislodge dust interfering with a computer’s critical functioning parts.

“In our classroom we have experienced multiple computer issues,” said Nick Sharpe, captain of the engineering team and a senior at Northern Vance. “There’s usually three or four computers that have a tendency of not working, and we’ve found out it is usually because of dust.”

Arthurs’ honors engineering class is home to 20 computers, which run all day, every day. They are never cleaned because the process would be messy, or very time consuming.

“There’s only two ways really to clean them,” Arthurs said. “One would be to disconnect each computer and take it down to the carpentry shop where you can blow all the dirt out of it, but that’s just too hard, so I never do that.

“The other thing would be to get a spray can full of compressed air, blow that in there, and then you’ve got a big cloud of dust in the room. Multiply that by 20 and you’ve got a bigger mess than when you started.”

Consequently, Arthurs never cleans the computers, leading to frequent breakdowns.

“When we opened them up and did some more investigations, we found it’s because the fan isn’t spinning like it should,” Sharpe said.

Common computer failures led the students to design the product they call Sirocco, which functions like a vacuum sucking dust from inside the machine.

“Some of the computers crash, and you have to spend money repairing them,” said Ray Cheever, a project member and sophomore at Northern Vance. “So it’s just as much economic as it is just helping the classroom.”

The digital model for Sirocco was created on a program called Solidworks, a program Arthurs says is used by professional engineers.

“This is a great thing to connect them to the real world,” Arthurs said. “We hope to start a prototype soon. We’re investigating that, and interviewing possible partners to help us manufacture it.”

Nearly 30 teams of high school and college students from across North Carolina submitted innovative product ideas. Of those submissions, five teams from each high school and college categories have been declared finalists.

Members of the public will be given the opportunity to vote for one of the five high school and college finalists.

Arthurs’ group of engineering students are required to submit a three-minute video of their product to N.C. State’s Institute of Emerging Issues by Jan. 25. Videos from all finalists will be posted on emergingissues.org between the first of the year and Feb. 11, 2013. Voting will take place between Feb. 4 and Feb. 11, at which time a link to the voter site will be made public.

“Everybody can go and evaluate the five finalists and vote for the one they think is the best,” Arthurs said.

“We’re the only one that’s out in the rural North Carolina,” Arthurs said. “So we’re at a bit of a disadvantage there.

“We’re going to need a lot of community support to get this thing through.”

Other high school finalist teams include:

• Havelock High School – “Sole H2O.”

• Hillside High School – “The Chest Top.”

• N.C. School of Science and Mathematics – “Surface Water Collection.”

• N.C. School of Science and Mathematics – “Fluid Demonstration System for Electrical Circuits.”

Contact the writer at amauser@hendersondispatch.com.