Preventing volcanic ash damage to jet engines

Published in Jan-Feb 2011 issue of Science Spin

We all remember the chaos caused by the eruption of the volcano in Iceland earlier in the year, and how fearful airlines were of the resulting ash cloud. Therefore, it is very timely that Ahmed Saeed, Seán Power and Craig Laurie, – pictured on the right – three transition year students at Castletroy College, Limerick, have been investigating how to prevent damage to a jet engine from volcanic ash.

The students had been exploring a number of ideas for the BT Exhibition, and eventually started thinking about environmental problems in the modern world. The biggest environmental problem Ireland faced in recent years, of course, was the disruption caused when the cloud of ash erupted out of the Icelandic volcano.

The idea was also triggered by a relative of one of the students getting caught, and being unable to travel into or out of Ireland following the Icelandic eruption. Their teacher, Leonard Coughlan, says the students are running a test at the moment that aims to replicate what happens in a jet engine when ash enters. The idea then will be to design a system that can render the ash harmless to jet engine. One danger is to avoid creating a problem worse than the initial problem.

The students are realistic and believe that he problem will not be easily solved. However, they are determined to come up with a solution to a ‘real world’ issue. Certainly, should the students come up with a solution to this problem, they have an idea that could be potentially commercialized and sold as a product in future.

This could help ensure that flights are no longer grounded following eruptions, and geologists believe that more eruptions are a possibility this year, or next. As for the importance of the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition to the students, Leonard said: “In my opinion I think the show is quite important to them, as it gives them a look at how other teenagers approach science and their curiosity affects their investigations.”


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