A Science-Fair Project on Steroids


Arizona residents live in perpetual summer – right? Well, actually about half the state is “above the Rim.” That’s the Mogollon Rim – a geological plateau that rises thousands of feet above sea-level, is covered in pine forests, and has a climate very similar to my native Minnesota. And in those forests reside large, wild animals such as elk and deer – the sort of animals that, like the proverbial chicken, for whatever reason, need to cross the road. And that can mean crossing an interstate highway, after easily jumping the chain link fences meant to discourage that route. This leads to collisions with vehicles; which leads to people and animals killed.

What to do? Some enterprising middle school kids in the Snowflake, Arizona Unified School District took on the challenge presented to them by their teacher. They entered their invention in the 2017 Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Science Competition.

Working on their own, after regular school hours, they devised a large animal elkXingdetection system that would warn drivers on the interstate that a large animal was in the area. The system is based on detection of animals’ body heat using infrared detectors which are powered by solar collectors. The signal is transferred to a series of lights along the highway which begin flashing to warn drivers. Their assumption is that flashing lights will get drivers’ attention more effectively than the usual series of yellow warning diamonds standing mutely by the roadside warning “ELK Crossing” ahead.

As a positive byproduct, these students learned other useful skills:

  • Making a promotional video explaining the project
  • Video conferencing with wildlife experts
  • Software and hardware design of the system
  • Production of components using 3D Printers
  • Water jet cutting and plastic heat bending to produce components
  • Control testing in a nearby pasture with active cattle grazing and moving about.

I hope they are successful when they travel to the national competition. To see the video they produced go to You Tube and search for Snowflake Junior High School, Arizona. You can vote for their project through Twitter. Good luck team!


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