Two 13-year-old inventors from Victoria took home two prizes and $5,200 at a provincial science and innovation showcase on Wednesday.
Liam Pope-Lau and Fraser Tuck, grade eight students at St. Michaels University School, created LifeHeat: The Self-Heating Lifejacket to prevent hypothermia when people fall into cold water.
The project launched two years ago when Pope-Lau capsized a boat while sailing.
“I got really cold,” Pope-Lau said. “Then I went home that day and started looking up hypothermia and realized how many people die of this and how completely preventable it is.”
This was around the time students at St. Michaels school were preparing for a science fair, and Tuck recalls Pope-Lau suggesting they create a self-heating life jacket as their innovation.
“That year it was just an experiment and I think we couldn’t do an innovation, so we had to change the wording a bit to get it into the science fair,” Tuck said.
“It was just the chemical in water and there was no life jacket.”
Since then, the pair have continued to develop the idea to fully create the jacket, which includes a pouch filled with calcium chloride pellets, commonly found in snow remover, lining the inner side.
“Calcium chloride creates an exothermic action, or created heat, when it reacts with water,” Pope-Lau explained, noting they chose to use a chemical that’s not harmful to people.
“Since cold shock sets in and the person isn’t really in the right mind,” he added.
The pair tested about 13 prototypes before finding a balance that wasn’t too hot, with the heat lasting about 30-40 minutes before cooling. The pouch is placed on the back of the jacket to heat a person’s core and vital organs.
This week, Pope-Lau and Tuck entered into the 2022 Science Fair B.C.’s Youth Innovation Showcase, which was held virtually and saw the two present their innovation to a panel of judges.
“I almost have to pinch myself just thinking about it,” Pope-Lau said, recalling the moments they not only scored the cash but won the Top Innovation and People’s Choice awards.
Tuck said that “it was really amazing.”
The two plan to use the money to improve and expand the jacket by adding more pouches to the front for additional heat. Smaller calcium chloride pellets will dissolve faster and provide immediate heat, while larger ones will dissolve slower but provide extended heat, they say.
“We are going to contact a patent lawyer and BC Ferries and probably make a few more prototypes,” Tuck added, saying they hope a company will help them create a fleet of jackets that can be sold or used commercially on ferries and cruise ships.
“And have it actually save a couple of lives,” Pope-Lau said.