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West Van student’s rocket drones to compete for Canada at international science fair

April 1, 2024  By Mina Kerr-Lazenby, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News

Jason Zhao’s science project, a rocket that deploys a drone to help detect and monitor wildfires, will compete in the International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles May 11-17. (Photo: Paul McGrath / North Shore News)

As a child, Jason Zhao dreamed of being an astronaut.

He had been fascinated with all things space and would fritter away hours poring over footage of rocket launches on Youtube. Still, never did he imagine he would one day be taking his own rocket to the skies, nevermind presenting it at a prestigious, international science competition, at the mere age of 16.

Come May, the Collingwood School student will be one of eight Canadian finalists to compete at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles, the world’s largest pre-college STEM competition.

Zhao will present his three-metre tall rapid response rocket to the judges. Designed to help fight forest fires, the rocket contains a drone that separates and surveys the forest once launched into the air.


“The goal is basically to give firefighters a much quicker and much easier way to monitor wildfires as soon as they arrive, so that they can act quickly and minimize any damage,” he said.

With the drone equipped with all the instruments a helicopter would use, like infrared and thermal imaging cameras, it makes for a cheaper and far safer alternative than deploying humans, Zhao said. It also makes for a far more time efficient option, cutting out the minutes spent gathering supplies, boarding the helicopter and flying to the affected part of the forest.

“With a rocket, you can launch it from any open field. It’s really fast. It’s supersonic,” he said.

Crafting the innovative design had taken Zhao the better part of a year. The process involved much trial and error, with the young engineer experimenting with various 3D printing techniques and materials to manufacture a rocket that would withstand takeoff while still remaining cost efficient.

“I had to do a lot of research to make sure that the 3D printed plastic was strong enough. I carried out a bunch of simulations, screen tests and aerodynamic simulations, and flew the rocket to Washington, Oregon and Seattle to test it,” he said.

Zhao has been building rockets ever since he was young, a passion fuelled by rocket launch videos and a visit to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida as a child, but never has he crafted something on this scale, he added.

“This is my peak rocket project, and it’s the combination of all of my previous learning and everything I’ve known before,” said Zhao, adding how this was also his first ever attempt at making a drone.

“It’s my most advanced project ever. So it would really mean a lot to me if I could win this, it would really help me feel proud of the past couple years of my work,” he said.

Zhao will be among 1,600 students from 80 countries competing for various wins, with $9 million in awards, prizes, and scholarships up for grabs.

Should his project win, Zhao said he hopes he can use the winnings to build a fleet of rocket drones, working alongside local fire services to fight against the province’s increasingly brutal wildfire seasons.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2023


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