MUSKEGO — Recycling Styrofoam by having common beetles eat it and herding fish with sound are just two of the projects that will be in the spotlight at the Project Lead the Way Engineering event Thursday, May 11, at Muskego High School, W183 S8750 Racine Ave.
Everyone will be welcome to the 6-7:30 p.m. event where the possible future engineers will be on hand to talk about their projects.
"They've been very innovative," their teacher, Karen Lindholm-Rynkiewicz, said. She is chairwoman of the technology, engineering and design department and teaches most of the engineering classes.
"Many are very creative, well read and able to make mathematical models and think outside the box," she said.
Some like seniors Dalton Dowd and Jake Petri want to save the planet. Their project is aimed at keeping the landscape from being buried under mountains of Styrofoam that as of now is virtually indestructible without releasing gases that are harmful to the environment, Lindholm-Rynkiewicz said.
For a solution, the seniors looked to the common darkling beetle that is found in almost every yard. If these tiny creatures could eat the waste Styrofoam, they would be doing a huge favor to mankind.
"This would help people so Styrofoam isn't piling up everywhere," Jake said.
Piles are more like mountains. The students found that the US discards 946,000 tons of Styrofoam every year. Considering 1.1 grams of the light-weight stuff is as big as a fist, as Dalton estimated, just one pound of Styrofoam would be some 412 Styrofoam "fists."
The young Muskego researchers found that the beetles actually survived well on a diet of only Styrofoam, both as beetles and as mealworms, their younger versions.
They also found that Styrofoam-containing waste from the beetles and mealworms can be mixed with soil with no harmful effects on growing grass. That points to using the waste with its bacteria from the beetle and mealworm digestive tracts for things like green roofs, the boys said.
Because the waste is so light, there would be less strain on roofs, they said.
"It also could be used for insulation," Jake suggested.
What they still need to know is whether the beetles lay eggs that will hatch into mealworms, thereby completing the life cycle. That is essential for the beetle recycling idea that needs to be self-sustaining, Lindholm-Rynkiewicz said.
They probably won't know that until June, she said. The eggs need to sense warm outdoor weather before they hatch, she said.
So, they won't have an answer by the presentation evening. But they have come a long hard way, already.
Another project herding fish with sound, which could literally save Lake Michigan from an invasion by Asian carp.
"The fish are destroying the ecosystem," said senior Andrew Kutzner, emphasizing the need to keep them out of Lake Michigan.
They are crowding out game fish, added senior Zachary Gollinger. "Getting the number of game fish back up would help the economy and the ecosystem would be healthier and more balanced."
Hard-to- catch Asian carp are sensitive to sound, researchers at the University of Minnesota have discovered.
Running with that idea, Andrew and Zachary engineered an apparatus capable of sending sound through water to drive the Asian carp into waiting nets. They designed an arm to hold a speaker underwater that can be adjusted for varying widths of a river. They also built a box to hold the speaker that is watertight, but still able to let a high-pitched sound get out.
What still needs to be understood is how far sound carries and the volume needed to drive carp into nets.
And where did the young researches go to get the high-pitched sound they needed? To their cellphones.
"I went to the App Store and looked for a frequency generator," Andrew said. They chose the frequency and plugged it into their speaker through the headphone jack, he said.
Then they plunged the speaker into water and turned on the sound.
"It was pretty loud when fully submerged," Zachary reported. "It was a good feeling of accomplishment."