Young Scientists’ Competition “Jugend forscht”: Inventive ideas meet startup excitement
Career at thyssenkrupp | innovation | What can we do to remove plastic from the ocean? How can electric cars be charged wirelessly? And what can we do to maintain a clean and healthy indoor climate? These were just some of the big questions addressed by young scientists in the regional heat of this year’s “Jugend forscht” competition hosted by us in Dortmund.
A total of 62 young researchers came to the DASA Working World Exhibition center in Dortmund at the end of February. With their 30 projects they covered seven specialist areas – from work environment to biology, chemistry, geo- and space sciences, to mathematics/IT, physics, and technology.
One of the young experimenters was Samuel Khadra, a school student and programming enthusiast from Schwerte. Explaining his project, he told us: “I’ve developed back-up software which is already being trialed at my school. It uploads and archives data to our school server automatically. You just plug a USB stick into your laptop and your data is automatically uploaded and saved every 20-30 minutes. So nobody has to upload files manually anymore.” He sounds like an experienced IT professional – but Samuel is just 14 years old. What’s even more impressive is that he taught himself programming three years ago. “I like reading. One day a book on programming fell into my hands,” he says airily with a shrug.
Self-taught security expert
Since then he’s been tinkering away happily developing his own software applications. That’s also what attracted him to join his school’s laptop class – for young techies, a dream come true. But having to manually upload up to 70 files a day got on his nerves so much that one day he just picked up his computer and developed his own solution for smart uploads. And he even thought about data security. He wrote his code so that backups could be encrypted, i.e. anonymized, if needed. That appeals to parents in particular. But when he leaves school Samuel doesn’t want a career in IT, he wants to study law – obviously, he can do IT already. That is of course unless he’s snapped up by a technology company first. After all, with his project he came first in the “Schoolchildren experiment” regional heat – his ticket to the state round of the competition.
Samuel is a real IT specialist – his school is already using the backup software he developed.
An app for indoor climate management, the smart way
Niklas Sander already knows what it’s like to take part in the state heat and even the national final. In fact this is the fifth time the Dortmund student has entered in the competition, with projects among other things on robotics. This year together with class mates Jacob Linnemann and Daniel Gellert he’s entering a project on “Smart Living”. With the aid of a user-friendly indoor air monitor, the team measures room temperature to gain information on levels of particulates, CO2 and mold. The data are then sent via the cloud to their specially developed app. The app warns users of possible pollution and automatically closes the windows if fine particulate matter reaches a specified limit. Setting up the app’s functions is straightforward and intuitive. Another compelling feature is that the system is easy to integrate into existing smart home systems. And voice control is also included.
“Our system keeps the indoor climate healthy without users themselves having to do anything. User-friendliness was very important to us,” say the three developers – music to the ears of product marketing experts everywhere.
Jacob and Niklas know: Customers want products that are easy to use.
The team gained most of their expertise from their previous project – an early warning system for mold, which last year made it as far as the national competition. “After last year’s competition a company was actually interested in our product,” says Jacob when we ask when it will be available in the shops. As yet the system is still a prototype. And it’s unlikely that they’ll be progressing their development and entering the finished product in next year’s contest: In 2019 Niklas will no longer be eligible to take part. When he leaves school this summer he’s heading to Munich to study business information systems. The keen young researcher is sure to have a lot to say to his future employer on the subject of digitization.
Inductive roadway to spell the end of diesel?
A diesel vehicle emits 170g CO2 per kilometer, an electric vehicle using coal-based power just 85g – a huge difference. That’s what Niklas Hermes and Kevin Lipphold thought too, and were really disappointed when they heard the planned targets wouldn’t be met. So they decided to act – by testing smarter ways to charge electric cars and at the same time improve their range.
Niklas and Kevin brought along lots of copper wire and physics wizardry to revolutionize our roads.
The question they asked was: How can you charge the battery with the motor still running? To find the answer, the duo developed an experiment based on a standard Carrera slot car track. With meters and meters of copper wire, a few iron cores, and specially made tracks they managed to move the little model cars and at the same time generate electricity – proving that electric vehicles can be charged wirelessly via the roadway. “You’d just have to develop a standard that could be installed on German roads,” says Niklas. “In China they already have such a road. That shows it can be done.” That’s true: With its electromagnetic induction coils, the solar highway in Jinan is regarded as a milestone in e-mobility.
Spurred on by this success, Niklas and Kevin now want to continue their project. But they are aware of the costs involved – all Germany’s roads would have to be dug open and a lot of copper and iron would be needed to transform them into a huge Carrera track. But for Niklas and Kevin that’s no excuse: “Autobahns are always being dug up, it wouldn’t be that hard to install a bit of copper. Also stationary cars can be charged too, and surplus electricity used for something else.”
How do I get plastic out of the ocean?
Two of the projects in Dortmund focused on environmental protection. Both Mina Ghoffrani and Franziska Berndt took as their starting point marine pollution and the threat to sea life from plastic waste.
Mina’s approach was chemistry-based. She placed various kinds of plastic in saltwater with vinegar and sodium bicarbonate. And look what happened: Under the microscope the carrier bags, yoghurt cartons, etc. showed distinct cracks – a possible first step towards permanently banishing plastic from our oceans. “I think it’s great that with a small idea I could make a huge difference,” says Mina.
Franziska thinks along the same lines: After seeing a shocking image of a crab using a plastic cap as a shell, she hit on the idea of decomposing plastic with UV rays. After several bouts of radiation, the plastic pieces developed a fibrous structure but did not decompose completely. But the student hasn’t given up. Inspired by the work of the Dutch enterprise “The Ocean Cleanup” which uses special nets to capture very small pieces of plastic, Franziska aims to pursue her idea further. Her dream is to have electrostatic conveyor belts attached to the bottom of ships that could attract and capture plastic that has been decomposed with the help of UV radiation.
Franziska and Mina took different approaches to ridding our oceans of plastic – one biological, the other chemical.
And what is thyssenkrupp’s young talent researching?
Jannik and two Daniels – that’s the three-strong team of second year industrial mechanic apprentices from thyssenkrupp Rothe Erde in Lippstadt. In Lippstadt everything revolves around slewing rings. Their goal was to improve the process for bending radial sliders. Radial sliders are located on the cages holding the rollers. Until now the sliders have been bent on a hydraulic press and attached to the cage for final adjustment by eye with a hammer – which can sometimes lead to inaccuracies. So the three young mechanics developed not only a device for precision bending the metal blanks but also a quick-change process for the bending dies. “It’s cool to think we’ve made something that will be used in production in the future,” they say. And we’re as pleased as they are: They too took first place and will now go through to the state-level heat!
Although they have left school, Jannik Henke, Daniel Gosedopp and Daniel Wirt are continuing to research at thyssenkrupp Rothe Erde in Lippstadt.
thyssenkrupp and “Jugend forscht”
thyssenkrupp has been hosting the regional heats of the young scientists’ competition “Jugend forscht” and its junior section “Schüler experimentieren” for 35 years now. 61 children and young people from Arnsberg, Dortmund, Hamm, Hattingen, Lennestadt, Lippstadt, Menden, Schwerte, Waltrop and Werl took part in this year’s regional heat at the DASA Working World Exhibition Center in Dortmund. The winning teams from the regional heats in NRW will go forward to the state competition at Bayer in Leverkusen at the end of March. The national final will then follow shortly afterwards.