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How to ‘cloak’ an island

Project earns Glawe his third trip to top world event for young scientists

March 1, 2009
By Kremena Spengler, Staff Writer

NEW ULM - Michael Glawe has "cloaked" an island.

The project - confined to a wave tank built in his parents' garage - has earned the Cathedral High School junior, among other things, a trip to the International Science Fair in Reno, Nev., May 10-15.

It is Glawe's third appearance at the prestigious event.

Article Photos

Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Cathedral High School Junior Michael Glawe is taking his third trip to the International Science Fair with his project about converting ocean waves into energy, while protecting coastlines from big waves.

The purpose of his experiment, explains Glawe, was to create a structure that would produce energy while providing protection from wave impact.

His "meta-material prototype" created seven times as much wave energy, while also reducing wave height and erosion damage.

The prototype design - a "meta-disk" with concentric corridors - achieves the purpose based on arrangement rather than composition, explains Glawe.

Glawe tested the disk in a homemade 3-foot, 8-inch by 6-foot, 3-inch wave tank, with a wave generator (also known as a garden hose). He released the wave generator, with and without the presence of the disk. He then recorded wave height and energy using water rulers and a voltage meter.

The meta-disk reduced wave height significantly by directing the waves through each corridor, said Glawe. It would appear, at first glance, that the waves would pass through the disk easily. Upon entry, however, the waves followed the outer rings first. As they spiraled toward the center, inertia played an effect on the waves, pulling them out from the ring.

The project has some potential practical implications, says Glawe. With its dual purpose, the structure could prove effective for harnessing ocean wave energy and preventing coastline erosion while also minimizing the impact on the ocean environment. Potentially, the meta-disk could render islands and oil platforms "invisible" to a tsunami or a tidal surge, allowing waves to pass undisturbed.

Glawe's project is based on an idea developed in England. He read a science letter online about it and decided to test the premise with a larger version of the original design.

Glawe built his model in his parents' garage with common materials and tools (concrete, wood, a drill).

(He is not hauling the entire 50 to 80-pound set-up to the science fair - just a small-scale model, several boards and the accompanying paper. Nonetheless, the project takes up two sizeable suitcases.)

Glawe's project is a reflection of a sustained interest in geophysics, mathematics, engineering and, more specifically, waves and their energy. During his second trip to the International Science Fair last year, he presented another project drawing upon knowledge in the above disciplines - an experiment that studied waves and their impact in relevance to conditions in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay.

The experiences have help built up confidence, and Glawe is communicating his findings clearly and concisely, in a noticeably simpler, more vivid language compared to former interviews.

A man of many talents, Glawe is balancing an interest in science with a growing interest in writing. He has written some short stories, and is considering the possibility of a future that involves both of these contrasting areas of interest.

At any rate, he muses, whether he becomes a scientist, a writer or something else, it would be a bonus to be able to clearly communicate scientific ideas.

Glawe's experiment has earned him a long list of certificates, medals and cash awards.

Notably, in addition to the trip to the International Science Fair, it has earned a $1,500 scholarship to attend the Second Annual I-SWEEP in Houston, Texas, April 15-20; and the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, advancing to further competition in Anchorage, Ala.

The project will also compete in the State Science Fair, March 29-31, and the accompanying paper has advanced to a tri-state symposium in St. Paul, March 28-29.

About 20 to 30 students from this state qualify for the international science fair each year. About 1,300 students from around the world attend the event, judged by some of the world's brightest minds, in disciplines such as physics and astronomy, earth science, electrical and mechanical engineering, environmental sciences, medicine, biochemistry, computer science, energy, behavioral and social science.



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