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Teenager’s Invention Improves In-Flight Air Quality

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High school senior (and TED Talk contributor) Raymond Wang has invented a device that can significantly improve air quality on airplanes — and recently won $75,000 for his efforts. New TPG Contributor Ellen Boomer interviewed Wang to get the lowdown on his plans to make you feel healthier at 35,000 feet.

Air travelers may soon breathe easier, thanks to 17-year-old Raymond Wang. This high school senior and avid traveler who hails from Vancouver was struck by reports of how diseases, such as SARS, spread on commercial aircraft. “I’ve always loved airplanes [and]… the air travel experience is obviously a huge part of getting where we need to go,” Wang said. “But basically, you’re sticking 200 people in this metal tube that flies halfway across the world.”

Using computational fluid dynamics, he invented something that may revolutionize air quality inside cabins — a piece of composite plastic that can reduce disease transmission up to 55 times and doubles the availability of fresh air on airplanes. In addition to being a simple solution to a complex problem, this piece of plastic can be installed overnight in an aircraft for roughly $1,000 per plane.

Raymond Wang1
Raymond Wang, teen inventor. Photo courtesy of Intel.

At the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in May 2015, Wang demonstrated the efficacy of his innovation with various models and simulations. He also won several awards, including first place from the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP), the top award in the Engineering Mechanics category and the $75,000 Gordon E. Moore Award, or overall “Best in Show.”

Scott Clary, PhD, Intel ISEF 2015 Engineering Mechanics Category Co-Chair and Electromechanical Engineering Manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, is excited by Wang’s award-winning invention. “Using high fidelity computational fluid dynamics modeling and representative physical simulations, Raymond Wang’s work has significantly enhanced our understanding of how disease-causing pathogens travel via circulating airflow in aircraft cabins, and has also helped him to develop multiple approaches for reducing disease transmission in these types of settings,” Clary said.

As you’ll see in the video above, current in-flight air distribution patterns merely swirl around the air that’s breathed out by passengers without eliminating possible pathogens.

When in place, Wang’s patent-pending invention — as you’ll see in this second video — causes streams of air to come down and create something akin to a bubble around each passenger, isolating them within their own breathing zones. Air flows from the main cabin inlets in the top and sides of the plane and is then pushed out through outlets in the bottom of the cabin.

“Even if we don’t end up implementing my particular solution, at least we raise a discussion about the issue of aircraft cabin air flow so that there’s a greater impetus for people in the industry to create these solutions,” Wang said. “The two main goals I have are to promote my innovation so that we can have more discussion of these issues and to possibly get something like my innovation in the airline industry itself.”

“Others have proposed solutions of this type to varying extents, but Raymond appears to have come upon an elegant and practical solution, perhaps the most promising one to date,” said Colonel (ret) Andre Gerner, SETP Foundation Chair.

Even inventors use selfie sticks. Photo courtesy of Intel.
Even inventors use selfie sticks. Photo courtesy of Intel.

“What kept me going was being able to discover something new that previous researchers hadn’t discovered before and to come up with solutions where previous researchers had faltered,” Wang said, explaining the five months he spent from the inception of his idea to the creation of his innovation. He also added how grateful he is to his parents for tolerating his many late nights. This inventor is 17 years old, after all.

Next up for Wang? His second TEDYouth Talk took place on Saturday, November 14 in New York City, and he’s currently applying to universities in Canada and the US where he plans to pursue engineering and business — and no doubt, lots more air travel.

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