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Young scientist harnesses raindrops

Tyler Tardi demonstrates how his R.E.D. works; rainwater pours down the drain pipe (upper right) into a narrow PVC tube compressor then into a small generator to produce some electricity. - CONTRIBUTED
Tyler Tardi demonstrates how his R.E.D. works; rainwater pours down the drain pipe (upper right) into a narrow PVC tube compressor then into a small generator to produce some electricity.
— image credit: CONTRIBUTED

Inspiration can come from anywhere.

For Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics, it was an apple falling from a tree that helped him better understand gravity.

In Tyler Tardi's case, it struck one rainy day while he was watching an item about turbines and electricity on the Discovery Channel's science show, Daily Planet.

Tardi happened to look outside at a drainpipe leading from the roof of the shed.

"There was water flying out of the gusher and I thought, if I put a turbine in the gusher, I could generate electricity," says Tardi, back from the 2011 Canada Wide Science Fair in Toronto, where he picked up a silver medal for his Rain Energy Device, or R.E.D.

The 12-year-old Sunrise Ridge Elementary student was one of eight students from the region, including five Surrey kids, who attended the national science fair, a week-long competition for students in Grades 7 to 12.

His "Go Green with R.E.D." project proved it's possible to harness rain energy by directing rainwater onto a waterwheel placed inside a drain pipe.

To test his hypothesis, he took a 25-litre reservoir to ensure there was ample water pressure, drilled a hole in the bottom, filled it with water and attached different pipe lengths to see which one would generate the most energy.

He measured the electrical output with a multimeter, which showed how many volts were being generated, then multiplying the volts into amps.

He eventually figured out what combination of motor, pipe length and type of turbine would work best.

Tardi then took the dimensions of the roof of their house and calculated how much rain falls on the roof in order to figure out how much power can be saved.

It turns out an average sized home roof in Cloverdale using his R.E.D. would have to run 340 hours a year in order to save two cents in home electricity costs.

The savings are small, but Tardi believes it's got potential.

He figures with further optimization, his innovation may help offset the cost of having to buy electricity or could be used to run mechanical things during peak hours of electricity use.

As the school year draws to a close, he's already working on ways to improve his concept.

Attending the Canada Wide Science Fair is something of a family tradition; when his older brother Jordan attended the competition, he earned two honourable mentions, sparking the younger sibling's interest in coming up with a battle plan to get there one day himself.

Good thing it rained.

Strict rules were in place at the Canada Wide Science Fair; flowing water wasn't allowed. So he brought a DVD video demonstration along instead.

His project was assessed by 13 different judges.

There was time to do some sightseeing beyond the competition. The group visited the CN Tower, and participated in a science chase involving different challenges to solve.

By the end of the week, the B.C. team members were all fast friends, despite the age gaps.

Another local student, Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary's Sarah Gordon, returned home with a bronze medal, $300, and two $1,000 entrance scholarships to the University of Ottawa and the University of Western Ontario.

Gordon, a Grade 12 student, is also a talented athlete; just last week she was named to the national U-20 women's rugby team.

Her science project aimed to assist people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. She created a theoretical design of a home that combines existing technologies to enable patients to live independently longer.

Gordon, who is set to graduate, has also received $5,000 in scholarship money from her home province.

Cloverdale's budding scientists first won science fairs at the school, district and regional level in order to advance to the nationals.

Along with a silver medal, Tyler earned $700 and a $2,000 entrance scholarship to the University of Western Ontario.

University is still a long way off, but he plans to become an electrical engineer.

Surprisingly, considering the rainy, cool weather that plagued the Lower Mainland this spring, Tyler doesn't really have a strong opinion either way on the subject of rain.

"I don't mind rain," he says, smiling – and no doubt thinking of the energy potential that's just waiting to be harnessed.

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