JAMES CITY — After months of work, six Warhill High School students are traveling to a NASA competition to take on teams from around the country for a chance to see their project incorporated in real space missions.
The competition, called HUNCH, or High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware, was founded to give students a chance to come up with solutions for challenges faced while living on the International Space Station.
There are more than 200 schools across the country that participate in the annual challenge. The final competition is Wednesday in Houston.
“NASA sends out engineering design prompts and there’s a whole bunch of them and you get to choose whichever one you’re most interested in,” said senior Kenzie Elliott, who serves as the president of the Warhill team. “Most of them are prototype-based but we did one that was a little bit more on the research side. So a whole bunch of research and then a little bit of prototype at the end, and basically you solve the issue as best you can and then send it to NASA.”
In the fall, the team began working on a way to use a 3D printer to create medical instruments like scalpels and then be able to melt down or otherwise recycle the material in order to reprint it into something else.
“The biggest hope with this project is to avoid taking unnecessary medical instruments into space,” Elliott said. “They aren’t able to accurately predict how many scalpels they’re going to need so it’s easier for them to print them on-demand when they need them.”
In February, the Warhill team presented their project to reviewers at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton. During the review session, the club received feedback from current and retired NASA personnel. During the research and design process, they also received frequent guidance from NASA engineer David Paddock.
“It’s very largely student-directed,” said Warhill teacher Christy Bennett, who co-sponsors the team. “I build the structure, present what the NASA prompts are every year, keep them on track and make sure we’re meeting our big milestones that NASA sets out, but (the students) take it and run with it. … We’re here to support the students but the students take the reins and do the work of making sure it all happens.”
Elliott, who wants to be an astrophysicist, first joined the club last year, when she helped to lead them to the semifinals. This year, she’s excited to be traveling to Houston for the final competition. The team was expected to leave today.
“We’re getting some cool tours of facilities down there,” Elliott said. The group also has the chance “to get to present something that we put a lot of work into. … I’m excited for the six of us to really get to put a lot of finesse into the final presentation for everybody.”
While it would be great to win, just getting this far has been a dream come true for Elliott.
“Even at the point that we’ve gotten to, I think a lot of us are really proud with what we’ve done,” she said. “A lot of us strive and want to work at NASA one day so even getting to the finals has been something that’s just really exciting for all of us.”
Sian Wilkerson, firstname.lastname@example.org, 757-342-6616