Mathias Totz, second from left, with his team during the SHAD design challenge at the University of P.E.I. Submitted

B.C. student helps design bracelet to measure poison air from wildfires

A Vancouver Island high school student, Matias Totz, part of group to win SHAD competition

A group of high school students from Vancouver Island have come up with a carbon monoxide bracelet that could save lives in the face of a wildfire.

It’s only a prototype, but the design, theory and potential for it was enough to win the top prize for the product design challenge at the SHAD program at the University of P.E.I. this summer, a month-long program for high school students interested and excelling in science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Matias Totz of St. Michaels University School was on the team that came up with the invention, part of the prestigious SHAD residence that promotes academic studies, and careers, in sciences and technology.

The beauty of the bracelet is how simple it is. If you breathe on it, it changes colour to show the user much of the poison is in their body.

“Our team learned through research that 80 per cent of deaths related to wildfires are carbon monoxide poisoning, it’s not burning to death, or houses falling down, it’s carbon monoxide,” Totz said. “We wanted a solution you could have with you at all times.”

For Totz, who is going into Grade 11 in September, the SHAD program was an eye-opener into the academic life beyond high school. The 16-year-old was one of 48 high school students from across Canada in the month-long entrepreneurship program that promotes science, technology, engineering, arts and math, in residence at a Canadian university.

“The kids there were amazing,” Totz said. “I was expecting super smart people, but they were also very social and very nice, and everyone had something they were interested in.”

Totz’s schedule was full of lectures and workshops. Each student presented on a topic for SHAD Speak. Totz talked about marine biology and was ‘wowed’ by the others, including presentations on dance, the beauty of math, and plastic pollution. The highlight of the program was the design challenge. It actually came via a video message from Canadian astronaut Drew Feustel on the International Space Station.

Feustel challenged the students to create a solution that would help Canadians be resilient in the wake of a natural disaster.

“We started with a few ideas but they were too big, unrealistic,” Totz said. “We wanted to do weather seeding, to control the clouds [and induce rain during droughts] but it was a little too crazy, so we went with the simple idea of a bracelet to tell you how much carbon monoxide is in your system,” Totz said.

They phoned manufacturing and chemical companies, they called Health Canada, and eventually, the group 3-D-printed a bracelet.

“Unfortunately we weren’t allowed access to chemicals to create the bracelet but we did narrow it down to this palladium (ll) dichloride,” Totz said. “If you breathe on it, it would change colour and show a measurement of how much carbon monoxide is in your system by showing different colours.”

They also designed a financial plan on the production and distribution of the product.

“Two of us are from B.C., which is prone to wildfires, so we narrowed it down to fires. We actually had an idea for different nozzles on fire extinguishers that youth could handle, and we had this other an idea to install massive sprinkler systems in the forest, which was a bit too big,” Totz laughed.

reporter@saanichnews.com


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