12 Mar, 2015    #37

Science Fair Blast 2

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Continued From Trax News Article #36


Monday morning started with the usual chaos of breakfast, packing lunches and getting four kids ready for school.  My Mom performed her daily magic with the experience of being the oldest sibling in a family of eleven!  I had to scramble that morning, assembling and packing my jet car science fair project for the bus ride to school.   The smuggled oxygen tank hid in plain sight as I waved good-by to Mom, after being assured with a hug that everything would be fine.  Making my way to the bus stop with a back-slung scuba tank, unruly poster and a heavy box of hardware was probably not that unusual for Key West.


Arriving at Key West High School, I found myself guided into the gymnasium along with other potential Nobel laureates to begin setting up our projects.  Mr. Ekelund, my physics teacher, informed us that this year we would be judged by professors from the University of Miami.  In other words, we should be prepared for questions from real scientists. 


Each project was assigned a small table arranged in a series of parallel rows.  After fueling the jet canister with lighter fluid and connecting compressed air and oxygen tubing, my jet powered car was ready to go.  Stepping back to admire the future of automotive transportation, I noticed a cute blonde carefully positioning delicate toothpick crystals, covered in colorful cellophane, on an adjacent table.   Taking a moment to scan other rows, I was relieved that no one else had a jet engine.  I would be in a category all by myself.


To make sure the jet was operational, I opened the valve on my scuba tank to apply compressed air to the canister.  As I was about to light the combustion chamber, Mr. Ekelund announced that our projects looked good and that we should all go to our 2nd period classes.  Unable to test the oxygen injection system, I closed the air valve and left the gymnasium.


After lunch we were instructed to stand by our projects and quietly wait for the judges.  I was nervously contemplating how I would explain my jet engine when the cute blonde began describing her crystals to the judges.  Evidently, she did a great job as they shook her hand and began walking my way.


Assembling in front of my project and without a word, the judges began reading my poster.  Instinctively, I moved out of the way so they could observe my master piece.  Then, one judge asked. ”What kind of a jet engine did you build?”  I responded, “I’m not sure, but this jet uses compressed air and lighter fluid”.  “You have RAM Jet, please tell us how it operates”.


I began with details of how air from the scuba tank creates fuel vapor that ignites in the combustion chamber, powering the wheels of the car.  Reaching under the table, I opened the valve and after a few seconds, lit the end of the combustion chamber.  As before, an unimpressive, feeble flame emerged from the combustion chamber similar to that of a kerosene lantern.  Reaching under the table, I opened the oxygen tank valve and said, “Now let’s inject a little oxygen to see what happens”.


After a delay of a few seconds, a single jet flame blasted out of the combustion chamber with the sound of a shotgun.  The jet fired 2 or 3 times a second at first, but rapidly intensified into a continuous combustion chamber flame with an jet takeoff roar.  Before, I could shut off the oxygen, my jet did what jets do … it became a projectile as it flew from my table!


All three judges hit the floor fearing for their lives and the cute blonde’s crystals were blown to smithereens.  Thank goodness her project was already judged.  The jet engine laid lifeless, disconnected from air and oxygen, at the far end of the gym floor.  The rear wheels of the car were never found, and fortunately, no one was actually injured.  Astonished and startled, my Nobel Prize for science was all but history.


My memory of events becomes foggy after that experience, but my final project grade was a D+.  D for Dangerous and + for supervision required! 


The following year, a few days before the science fair, my best friend Bobby asked if he could use my Jet Engine poster as his project.  He received an A grade for his explanation of my jet powered car.  Life is not fair, as I have rediscovered many times, but it should be fun!  Although my nomination for the Nobel Prize never came to fruition, I know I’m anonymously famous at University of Miami.



Mike Kohut, President, DDMS




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