Even with windows open, dogs left in hot cars are in danger of overheating. Ten schoolchildren from Fox Valley Christian Academy in Neenah, Wis., have developed a winning solution: a rubber-and-foam mat filled with biobased phase change material.
The team is one of thousands participating in FIRST LEGO League, an international competition designed to get elementary and middle school students interested in science and technology. This year’s theme, “Animal Allies,” challenged students to bridge the gap between humans and animals through scientific research and robotics design.
The Fox Valley students, ages 8 to 13, began their work in September and decided to find a way to keep dogs cool in hot cars. Their research led them to a variety of PCM options. Because the application involves pets, the students chose to focus on nontoxic material for use in their “LayCool” device.
The final design stacks PCMs with three different transition temperatures atop the rubber mat: Ice in plastic blocks at the base, then two Entropy Solutions formulations – PureTemp 18 and PureTemp 23 – contained in film pouches. The PCM core is surrounded by foam and a fabric cover. The “LayCool” concept includes a temperature-sensing collar that sends a text message to the dog’s owner when heat approaches dangerous levels.
“The team really liked that the PCMs were nontoxic, safe, biodegradable,” said adviser Scott Wenzel, a parent of two team members. “You never know when your dog will try to eat the LayCool. We also loved the fact that the PCMs were encased in a mat, which we were able to cut to size and place in the LayCool.”
Wenzel, a technical leader in formulation science at Kimberly-Clark, described the prototyping process as collaborative: “Ideas were gathered on the best way to layer PCMs to keep cool the longest and try to keep dog comfortable.”
The collaborative effort is paying off. The team won first place in the research category in two competitions, including last month’s sectional tournament, where Fox Valley beat 47 other teams. They earned a trip to the state tournament, which will be held Feb. 26 in Janesville, Wis.