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Sixth-graders find solution to “Miracle on Hudson”

Jun 22, 2017 10:10AM ● Published by Julie Slama

Four sixth-grade students—two who attend Midvale Middle School—created an innovative solution to birds striking airplanes and received a national award from EPA Acting Deputy Regional Administrator Suzanne Bohan (left). The students are Eric Snaufer, Allison Drennan, Abigail Slama-Catron and Timothy Holt. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama  |  Julie@mycityjournals.com
 
Four sixth-graders, half who attend Midvale Middle School, may have found a solution to what commonly is known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
 
In January 2009, 155 people survived an emergency landing in the Hudson River after a flock of Canada geese struck the U.S. Airways flight minutes after it left LaGuardia Airport in New York.
 
Eight years later, people refer to the incident as “Miracle on the Hudson,” and have become familiar with the significance of bird strikes also in part due to the movie, “Sully.”
 
After working with the Salt Lake International Airport officials, the sixth-graders learned that bird strikes are common at numerous airports so they set out to find a solution. After months of research, the team created an air scare device called a bionic scarecrow, which has been tested for sixth months and has been proven effective.
 
“We not only identified a need, but we created an answer— and it works,” said Allison Drennan, who attends Beehive Science and Technology Academy in Sandy with teammate Timothy Holt. “We’ve built several bionic scarecrows that the airport is using now and they want more.”
 
Teammate Eric Snaufer, who attends Midvale Middle School with the group’s fourth member, Abigail Slama-Catron, said that the sixth-graders got together under their team name, Bionic Porcupines 2.0, to compete in the FIRST LEGO League competitions. One part of the contest is to create a project that could impact their community.
 
“After sending emails and calling several people in our community, the airport officials invited us there,” Eric said.  “They explained the problem that 218 birds hit airplanes last year. Our team thought that the project was pretty challenging. I hadn’t thought about it until I researched and became engrossed in it.”
 
Eric said that a recent Cornell University study showed random motion scares away birds.  So the group decided to create a miniaturized air dancer that was small, portable, waterproof and environmentally friendly.  Using a tool box, a car battery and a water-resistant fan, they put together the basics — along with sewing a nylon sock that randomly scares away the birds.
 
“We discovered that the problem was larger than we realized at first because many airports are located on the birds’ migratory routes and habitats,” Abigail said, after the team spent hours with XX biologist Bobby Boswell.  “We’re wanting to share our Bionic Scarecrows because they save lives—both the people’s and the bird’s.”
 
Their devices will save airport officials money on current, more expensive methods of scaring the birds as well as save airlines about $900 million per year in damaged planes, Timothy said.
 
“We have a provisional patent so we’re able to produce more Bionic Scarecrows to help stop bird strikes at other airports and places around the world,” Timothy said.
 
Their innovative project hasn’t gone unnoticed.  After winning the FIRST LEGO League qualifier’s champions award, they won the most innovative project in Utah state competition and their bionic scarecrow was named one of 60 most innovative projects in the world.
 
In June, the team received the Presidential Environmental Youth Award by the Environmental Protection Agency.  They were one of 10 secondary national winners across the country.
 
“These are four special students because someday, I know that they’ll save my life when I’ll be on an airplane,” said Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, who also presented the students with a proclamation at a Sandy City Council meeting.  “They are very creative, forward-thinkers who are doing our community a great service.”
 
EPA Acting Deputy Regional Administrator Suzanne Bohan said that the transferability impressed her.
 
“They’re helping their community, right in their backyard,” she said. “At the same time, it’s a global problem and their device will make an impact on everyone and our environment.”
 
Bohan said that the Bionic Porcupine 2.0 team has set the bar high.
 
These student winners are exemplary leaders, committed to strong environmental stewardship and problem solving.  Environmental education cultivates our next generation of leaders by teaching them to apply creativity and innovation to the environmental challenges we face as a nation. I have no doubt that students like these will someday solve some of our most complex and important issues,” she said.
 
The team, joined by Allison’s older sister, Katie, also participated in the Utah High School Entrepreneur Challenge at the University of Utah and were awarded $1,000 for the best prototype. 
 
“It was an incredible experience to see up-and-coming entrepreneurs showcase their hard work and pitch their idea to the judges,” said Stephanie Gladwin, entrepreneur challenge chair.
 
Katie, who worked mostly on the business plan, presented the project to judges.
 
“They were pretty excited about it,” said the Alta High freshman. “Through the presentation, I learned about the world of business, terminology and other financial spreadsheets that I can use in my future.  It was really amazing to be the youngest teams at the challenge and to win an honor for best prototype.”
 
The group also wanted to share their discovery so Abigail and Eric represented the team to present their innovative project at the regional Salt Lake Valley Science and Engineering Fair, where they won the elementary division category of mechanical engineering as well as received special awards from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Utah Department of Transportation.  They also were invited to apply to the National Broadcom Science Fair.
 
Abigail also presented the LEGO team’s project through at the 8th Canyons Film Festival, where the film won best middle school documentary.
 
“It’s great to be recognized for our hard work, but what meant the most was when we went to the airport to see our project actually work,” Abigail said.  “We are making a difference in the world.”

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