JM: The challenge was to be inspired by nature and invent something new. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Kids’ Science Challenge winner Olivia Smith Donovan took her inspiration from a maple seed.
OD: My idea was that you could use big maple seeds to drop emergency parcels and people from great heights, and I learned that that might not work and that we might have to have a lot of smaller blades instead.
JM: Olivia worked with University of California engineer Christopher Viney to turn her idea into a reality. Christopher says that the problem is when you take something very small, like a maple seed, and try to make it bigger, things change.
CV: So one of the challenges that we’re facing here is that you want to make
something that’s big, right, because you want to carry something heavy on it. So let’s say you want to make something twice as long as the wing, or maybe three times as long or four times as long. Now the question is, if I make it four times as long, is it still going to behave in the same way, is it going to keep its shape in the same way. When you change the dimensions, when you change the lengths or the heights or any aspect of how the thing is shaped, the weight it can carry or the way that it bends or the way that it falls, that’s not necessarily going to change in proportion to what you’ve just done changing the shape. The things that nature makes work beautifully at the size that nature needs to make it work for. But if we want to make something really much bigger, we’re probably going to have to make it out of totally different stuff. It’s finding that stuff that’s going to be the challenge.
JM: Olivia and Christopher tested a lot of different ideas, and they ended up with something that didn’t look anything like a maple seed. But when they tried what they called the floppy flyer
OD: Three, two, one, zero Woo-hoo, it worked!
JM: To see pictures of the floppy flyer, visit kidsciencechallenge.com. The Kids’ Science Challenge is our free nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th graders. Our newest challenge starts next month.
Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.