A Mapes school student recently won a gold medal and a special category prize for his experiment with perpetual motion. He also ended up inventing an unorthodox engine brake. For Christian Keleman it wasn’t just a science project that he put forward at the regional science fair, it was for him a chance to play with engine components, ideas and the unchanging laws of physics.
“I’ve always been interested in science, when I was very little I played with levers … I take apart things like a phone with a dead battery, and see how they work,” the Grade 6 student said.
He won the Central Interior Automotive Innovation award for his project that tried to answer, Can you make a perpetual motion machine using magnets? He also took home the UNBC Active Minds award.
So how did he get the idea for an experiment on perpetual motion?
“I was watching Inventions that shook the world,” Kelemen says, “it’s one of my favourite (TV) shows.”
The key thing he says, was learning the potential for magnets and learning to build an electromagnet.
“He tried to make an electromagnet by wrapping wire around (a piece of steel), but it wasn’t working,” Keleman’s mom said.
Then he found out what was missing by reading ‘How to build a compass’ in a survival guide book.
“I found out that coated wire would work, and (the home made electromagnet) the one I made actually picked up a screw,” Keleman said happily.
Then he needed to put the magnets to work in some kind of motor.
“I got a (10 litre water jug) and a weather station wind speed (gauge) that has fins on it … and I bolted it down into the jug and I put magnets on the fins,” Keleman explains, “What happened is it slowed down and turned gently.”
That wasn’t all there was to the experiment, however.
“I put one magnet on one side and I thought I saw it slow down, then two and it definitely slowed down … then more magnets and (the windspeed gauge) was shaking and came to a fairly fast stop,” the young Cluculz resident observed.
Then when he put all the magnets on one side he said the unexpected happened.
“The fins slowed down and turned backwards,” Keleman marvels.
He set out to create perpetual motion and he created a brake.
“I wasn’t disappointed … I went on (a web encyclopedia) and it said (perpetual motion machine) wouldn’t work because it defies the first and second laws of thermal dynamics,” Keleman says, “energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed.”
The Mapes school student wanted to change his hypothesis once he realized this, but it’s just as important to prove you’re wrong in science, he notes.
“Thomas Edison’s Dad didn’t think he could make a light bulb,” Keleman’s mother says with humour. And she is 100 per cent behind her son’s science play and then some.
“My mom helped me get prepared for the science fair,” Keleman says, “she’s my main coach.”
Also his dad and grandfather advised the young scientist.
“My dad said I’d need an outside power source, (to create energy) and my grandpa who is a heavy-duty mechanic said the same thing.”
And to prove the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, his maternal grandfather was also an inventor and discovered how to build a house boat that had a retractable trailer built right into it. He never got the patent off the ground but it would have been a popular project at any science fair.
Keleman enters science fairs not so much for winning prizes as for the fun of it, he said. He has won medals at district and regional science fairs before. But showing a project takes an entire day describing to judges just what the student is demonstrating.
That sounds like it would take lots of confidence and the gift of the gab. But Keleman is good at that, his mom notes. While Keleman’s writing skills are hampered by a condition of dyslexia, he has no problem talking about science.
“That’s where he excels,” his main coach confirms, “he was explaining it for all the judges at the science fair and did really well.”
This region as a whole does well in science; two teens from Prince George qualified for the world science fair in Japan this year out of only five chosen across the province.
But Keleman is from a school of 40 students in a very rural community thirty minutes outside Vanderhoof. That may be part of a winning formula; seems that playing with things, modifying and driving them on the family property has been an asset for Keleman.
“I love motorcycles,” he informs with more evidence to support the theory that learning has a solid ally in play.
This year when the 11 year old went to the regional contest, he actually didn’t think he would win anything. That’s because after the first round of judging he did not see the judges for the rest of the day.
He and his family attended the awards ceremony in order to cheer on his friends, he explained. Then he was called up to the stage to accept a gold medal and a trophy so big and heavy he had to steady himself just to carry it back to his seat.
And all of this he did disproving his theory. But that’s not the most significant thing.
He has a practical application in mind for his discovery. When airbrakes fail on big transport trucks, maybe trucks could have a magnetic brake like Keleman’s on board for backup.
“This is a brake … I know it can absolutely work,” the young inventor affirms, smiling.