Nattan Telmer built a rechargable case out of thermoelectric generators to expand the life of sensors that marine researchers attach to Steller sea lions. Travis Paterson/Black Press

UVic hosts Vancouver Island science fair this weekend

UVic hosts Vancouver Island science fair this weekend

Earlier this year Cadboro Bay resident Nattan Telmer had the distinct privilege of sharing a Vancouver Aquarium treatment room with an adult Steller sea lion named Tasu.

Tasu was undergoing treatment and, simultaneously, Telmer was afforded the chance to temporarily affix a tracking sensor to the sea lion’s body. Telmer had constructed a case to surround the tracking sensor to use the animal’s heat to recharge the sensor’s batteries, extending its lifespan from six weeks to a year.

Telmer, a Grade 9 student at Mount Douglas secondary, is one of 143 teen scientists from across Vancouver Island registered to meet April 9 and 10 at the 56th Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair at the University of Victoria.

“It was successful, it charged while on the animal,” Telmer said.

The declining number of Steller sea lions along the West Coast of North America is puzzling researchers. It caught the eye of Telmer, who won the overall top prize at the VIRSF last year as an Arbutus Global middle school student (and gold at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Montreal), and who was seeking a new project for 2017.

“Similar sea lions are increasing off the East Coast so researchers are trying to establish why they’re declining here by using tracking sensors,” Telmer said. “The problem I found was the sensors only last six weeks then the battery dies.”

The sensors are attached in the summer when the sea lions molt, and they stay on until the animal molts again a year later. Telmer has been chasing a solution to extend the life of the sensor’s battery using thermoelectric generators.

The generators, or TEGs, are not unlike the thermal Peltier tiles that power the popular hollow flashlight designed by Saint Michaels University School grad Ann Makosinski. In Telmer’s augmentation of the sea lion tracking sensor, positive electrons mix with negative electrons in picking up the heat from the animal and the cold of the ocean. The TEG picks up the energy and a jumper sends it to the rechargeable batteries, which are equivalent to four AAs.

Last year Telmer designed a phone recharging system for the outdoors. It also used TEGs but the design was otherwise completely different. The charger could sit in the sun but is also more durable than a solar panel and could sit in a cold lake or charge while left outside during the night.

That design won Telmer gold at the 2016 Canadawide Science Fair in Montreal.

“We got to see the city, and stay at a dorm in McGill University, where the entire fair was held,” Telmer said.

This year’s Canadawide Science Fair is in Regina, in May, and Telmer has every intention of returning.

Travel and accommodation for the CWSF is covered by the Society for the Advancement of Young Scientists in Victoria, a non-profit dedicated to advancing scientific education.

The science fair runs Sunday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. and Monday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in UVic’s the Elliott Lecture Wing.

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