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Students tackle icy challenge

Nationally certified HHS program takes hands-on approach to learning

News editor

Slush drinkers enjoying their icy drinks have two banes — “brain freeze,” and getting to the last glob of frozen delight stuck in the bottom of the cup.

The latter conundrum could be on the outs if a company picks up an innovative straw design created by Hillsboro High School senior engineering students Hannah Bartel, Jakob Hanschu, and Jesse Meier.

To generate ideas for their final project, they answered the question, “Don’t you hate it when …?” hundreds of times, Jesse said. Surveys of students, staff, and people at large helped whittle away options until a final choice remained.

“The two we came down to were getting the slush out of the bottom of a cup, or to keep toilets from clogging,” Jakob said. “In the end, we decided we’d rather work with slushes than toilets.”

Each student created mock-ups of three ideas that might effortlessly free frozen slush from the bottom of a cup. They chose one of Hannah’s ideas — a straw with a screw-like auger inside —to develop into a functional model.

“I knew that augers in combines move grain and solids,” Hannah said. “In the slush machines you see in a shop, there’s an auger at the bottom turning to keep it all the same consistency. Is there a way to incorporate an auger into the drink?”

There were plenty of problems to solve, the students said. The auger would lift the slush up the straw, but it had to be small enough that a slush drinker didn’t have to suck harder on it. There needed to be enough space for some of the syrup in the slush to drain back into the cup, keeping the remaining slush the same consistency. And there was the problem of keeping the auger in the straw, which they solved by designing upper and lower supports into the straw.

They developed a prototype using design software, which sent instructions to a 3-D “printer” that turned the digital design into a physical product, laying down layers of melted plastic to create the specialized straw and auger. Since the initial design, the students have kept refining the product.

Adding a dose of reality to the project, their solution had to be cost-effective to mass-produce without driving the cost of slushes so high that people would stop buying them.

Jakob talked to people attending the Hillsboro Arts and Crafts fair, entering survey answers on his phone, including pricing opinions. The results indicated people would pay up to 12 cents more for slushes with the specialized straw. The trio estimated it would cost 10 cents apiece to mass-produce them.

The project is part of the students’ final engineering career pathway class, a series of classes that recently received national certification through Project Lead the Way. PLTW promotes career-focused learning by using projects that integrate and apply knowledge from various classes.

“All my core classes, all my math and science, they set me up with the background I need to apply it in these engineering classes,” Jakob said. “You can learn calculus and trigonometry all you want, science, physics, but if you don’t know how to apply those to solve problems, to deal with everyday situations, you’re not going to go anywhere.”

Jesse said he liked applying information he learned last year in chemistry.

“I remember when we were learning, I honestly thought ‘Why do I need to know this?’” he said. “Less than a year later I’m using it for a project specifically in engineering.”

Jesse and Jakob said they plan to major in different areas of engineering in college, while Hannah said understanding engineering principles will be of benefit in her chosen field of construction management.

None of them plan to go into the straw business, but if their project is well-received at an engineering competition in April, it’s possible a manufacturer could one day purchase the patent to make their specialty slush straw a reality.

Last modified Feb. 19, 2015

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