East Cooper CAS students’ experiment heading into space

Published: Mar. 18, 2022 at 3:48 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 18, 2022 at 5:47 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - When Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket takes flight next year, one of the payloads on board will be an engineering experiment built by a team of high school students at East Cooper Center for Advanced Studies. The project is one of 57 selected by NASA out of a pool of more than 600 applicants in the TechRise Student Challenge.

Ryan Teachman is one of the lead designer of the project and was at a loss for words when the selection was announced.

“I was blown away. I really wasn’t expecting it,” Teachman said. “I’m really excited. This is the coolest thing I have done, hands down.”

The experiment they designed is called a surface catheter blood suction machine. The high school senior says he thought up the idea for the machine while doing an internship at the Medical University of South Carolina.

“In a space surgery when someone is cut open, the blood will just pool right around the incision site. It’s not going to drip down to the ground like on Earth. It’s going to stay right there, making surgery difficult if not impossible. The surgeon can’t see what they’re doing,” Teachman said. “We decided we wanted to create a pumping mechanism to pump the blood away so the surgeon can work in a normal manner.”

The project is being worked on by a whole team of around 20 students. Regan O’Neill is another one of the team leaders. She’s in charge of the structural design and many of the math equations needed in the project.

“We have to design an expulsion system to mimic a person’s blood and we can’t use real blood because that’s a bio hazard. . . So if someone got an incision, where would the blood pool and how fast,” O’Neill said. “Everything has to be double sealed for this project, so if we had liquid in a container it has to have two systems to hold it in place – so I am sort of in charge of designing that too.”

O’Neill loves math and will go to college to pursue an engineering degree. She says the project is more than just a neat science experiment and an opportunity to send something to space. She is using it to show younger girls what’s possible and inspire the next generation of female engineers.

“I volunteer a lot with younger Girl Scouts for STEM programs and it’s really nice for them. They’re like ‘Oh my gosh you’re sending something to space,’ so I’m like trying to get them more into engineering too,” O’Neill said. “It’s really fun to see, especially with some of the younger girls. They would never expect that was even a possibility for them.”

NASA evidently liked the experiment and the teams’ engineering teacher Chris Sjolander says it’s one of the best ideas he’s ever seen.

“In the time I have spent at the East Cooper CAS and Wando High School teaching high school engineering, this is definitely top three,” Sjolander said. “They have done an amazing job. I simply act as a facilitator. They approached me with the idea to do this project. They have completely self-managed it – Ryan and his group of team leaders have done an amazing job.”

The students submitted the design last year and are now in the building stage. The experiment has to be completely automated since the students will not be going to space with it, nor will anyone on the ground be controlling it. Teachman says the biggest hurdle they’re facing is the limited power supply they have access to.

“The rocket supplies you with five volts and 0.9 amps, which isn’t that much,” Teachman said. “We have to power our [computer] code. We have to power our motors which do the pumping . . . they want us to add in a light and a camera so we can actually record it and see it. . . We are able to get around a lot of issues by using as much potential energy as we can.”

They hope to have project done in the next few weeks. It will get sent to NASA and then wait in a warehouse until next year when it will take flight.

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