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Competition: Trash Design Challenge, San Jose, CA. From Sept. 25, 2010

test rig

Level: students in grades 5-12. Dates: Info clinics from Sept. 2010  – Feb. 2011; Test trials to begin March 2011. Location: The Tech Museum, 201 S. Market St., San Jose, CA.

Tech Challenge 2011

Sponsored by The Tech Museum, San Jose, CA, this is an annual team design challenge for youth in grades 5 through 12 that introduces and reinforces the scientific process with a hands-on project geared to solve a real-world problem.

This Year’s Challenge is to tackle the Great Pacific Gyre, helping devise ways to rid the oceans of trash caused by man at different depths without harming sea life.

Information Clinics begin Sept. 25, 2010, through Feb. 2011. Check the Challenge Website for more information and to register a team.

Trash Island – The Great Pacific Gyre

Did you know that there is a pile of trash that is larger than the state of Texas floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Currently there are scientists researching the situation who can not determine the depth of the “trash island” because is so large and it is moving! This trash is largely made up of plastic, but over time, the ocean has turned the plastic into tiny particles. These particles are harmful to the sea life in our vast Pacific Ocean. Marine Scientists are asking for our young engineers to come their aid, and help rid the ocean of this trash. We know you can do it, you have Moved Water without Electricity, you have Explored Volcanoes, and even helped NASA mission specialists clean up space. Now – you have to help clean up the ocean!

Your team’s challenge is to design and create a device that can collect trash from different strata of the ocean – without harming marine life.

Test Rig – Something New

This year we will be doing our testing in 2 phases – first we will start with a smaller test rig which will be a (4’x4′) Plexiglas cylinder with air jets to form a gyre of trash spinning in the center. This will be your pre-test testing rig.

Metaphorically – it’s so that you can get your feet wet – and see what challenges current, accuracy and buoyancy can be.

Then about 6 weeks out from the big event day on April 30th we will bring in the “actual” test rig, which will be a 4’H x 15’W round swimming pool. Yes – a swimming pool!

  • You and your team need to design and build a solution that can help rid the Ocean of plastic and other debris that is harmful to marine life, mankind and the Earth.
  • You and your team will be operating your device from your ship in the middle of the ocean. (You will be located at the edge of a 15′ pool).
  • You will have 2 minutes to set-up and get ready to start your mission.
  • You will have 3 minutes to complete your mission without harming any form of marine – so accuracy is a must!

Why is this Important?

Researchers say a Texas-sized garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean is possibly killing marine life and birds that are ingesting the trash. They worry marine life is dying from ingesting plastic, which does not biodegrade but breaks into small pieces. Among researchers’ findings were confetti-like plastic shards and barnacles clinging to water bottles. The scientists say they will analyze the trash to determine the density of the patch and its consequences for sea creatures.

A plastic bottle thrown into a storm sewer in San Francisco will make its way to the Pacific Gyre in about two weeks, and stay there for eternity. Everything from Barbie doll parts to plastic pop tops and floating wisps of Saran Wrap swirl around in this ever widening vortex of human generated trash. Plastic accounts for close to 90% of the material in the garbage patch. This is bad news, because plastic is forever. It does not bio degrade like wood, paper, or even rock.

Plastic photo-degrades, which means it becomes brittle and begins to crack and get broken down into smaller pieces, releasing dangerous toxins like PCB’s and DDT to be absorbed by the water and ingested by living creatures. Eventually, millions of tiny poisonous plastic nodules wash up on beaches, sink to the bottom of the sea, or just float around on the surface of the water to be mistaken for food by birds and fish. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that poisons ingested at the bottom of the food chain will eventually make their way to the top.

Scientists have announced their findings from expeditions to the Garbage Patch which is located about 1,000 miles west of California. The patch is a vortex formed by ocean currents and it collects human-produced trash, which in earlier generations, mariners avoided these areas with good reason. It was the perfect combination of topical weather, slow, swirling equatorial currents, and lack of wind that made it a grave yard for men and ships alike in the great age of sailing. These are the same characteristics that have turned it into a continent-sized floating landfill today; a fact that has some frightening implications for the future of our oceans and all life that depends on… which includes us!

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