How Pahoa students used science to find a way to protect power poles

Students from Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science (HAAS) in Pahoa
Students from Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science (HAAS) in Pahoa

PAHOA (CNN/KHON2) – The lava flow on Hawaii Island has slowed, but the danger is not over.

The nearest homeowners are just 40 yards away from the 2,000 degree river of molten rock.

Here’s the story on how teenagers are helping to protect some important structures in its path.

Geologists track the lava through an open called the sky light. They measure how much lava is traveling and how fast.

Currently about 90,000 cubic meters of lava flows passed this point everyday at about 10 miles per hour.

But the lava dramatically slows on its 13-mile journey towards Pahoa.

“It slowly oozes across the ground and then intense heat is consuming everything in, that it touches,” said Frank Trusdell, USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Now say aloha to these advanced science and engineering teens at the Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science (HAAS) in Pahoa.

Hawaii Electric Light employees install protection around a utility pole in the Puna area using heat resistant and dispersive material. (Photo: Hawaii Electric Light Co.)
Hawaii Electric Light employees install protection around a utility pole in the Puna area using heat resistant and dispersive material. (Photo: Hawaii Electric Light Co.)

“There was lava heading our way and the power poles would have just have burned up…” said HAAS student engineer Maya Anderson.

No power poles, no power or vital communication lines.

But they were up against one of natures most powerful forces, lava.

“The temperatures can be 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit or higher which will destroy most anything in its path,” explains HAAS student engineer Logan Treaster.

In just 90 minutes, they came up with a brilliant plan.

“The initial drawing is shown right here,” showed HAAS student engineer Michael Dodge.

HELCO pole impacted by lava
HELCO pole impacted by lava

They call it a power pole protection barrier, and gave the idea to the Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO).

“We were expecting the standard good try guys but this is an adult matter and we got more of a wow you guys are actually good engineers,” remember HAAS student engineer Jordan Drewer.

Now HELCO already had a plan to protect poles. But it uses the very same principles the teens came up with.

This video of one protected pole already hit by lava shows the theory works.

Now in Pahoa, poles are being protected, and these teens can say we came up with the same idea.

Courtesy HELCO
Courtesy HELCO

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