High school students build dry ice engine for Mars colonisers


Mars harbours plenty of dry ice – could it be used to power Mars colonies?
NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Two North Carolina high school students have created an engine that runs on dry ice to aid Martian exploration and colonisation.

Chase Bishop and James Thompson developed the project as part of the TIME 4 Real Science Program, a research platform in North Carolina which teams high school students with teachers and volunteer scientists.

Through this program, Bishop and Thompson spent more 250 hours thinking: could dry ice, as it sublimates from solid to gas, create enough energy to drive a piston?

Not only is dry ice readily available on Mars, it exists at a temperature close to it sublimation point. As Bishop and Thompson point out in their paper, this allows for massive pressures to be reached with only a small amount of dry ice.

This is the background for the idea, but the task remains: building an engine that can harness the energy released by sublimation of dry ice. With the help of retired NASA electrical engineer Wes Branning, the pair fashioned an engine using common, off the shelf materials.

And the result? In their words, “it is now apparent, that with further research and refinement, a dry-ice-powered pressure engine has the potential to power humankind’s advance on our neighbour planet, Mars”.

A big sentence for a couple of high school students.

For more information on the project, check out Mars for the Many.

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Kate Goldberg is currently completing a Bachelor of Arts and Science at Monash University with majors in politics and genetics.
  1. http://marsforthemany.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/ChaseandJamesResearchPaper.pdf
  2. http://marsforthemany.com/news/technology/dry-ice-engine/
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