Especially if they are driven by the endless possibilities of science and engineering. The knowledge and creativity of Anna (17) and Adrian (20) Fleck, from Germany, has been rewarded with the first prize at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists 2018 (EUCYS), which took place in Dublin. The siblings give insights into new ways of using starch for scientific purposes. They have developed a flexible body protector made of fluid containing starch, which solidifies during impact. Not only will this invention be able to save many sportsmen in the future, but it will serve as a superpowerful tool against injuries for motorcyclists, too. Anna and Adrian shared their impressions from Dublin, revealing details regarding FleckProtec and their coming professional moves.
Dear Anna and Adrian, share with us what has been keeping you busy in the last couple of months, especially since you came back from Dublin?
Adrian: We took a short break after the competition in Dublin, because the months preceding had been highly stressful, as one can imagine. Shortly after we got back home, we had a lot of meetings with other scientists, who inspired us to work even harder to improve our protector even though we weren´t fully rested. We are now working on a better shape and design for our protective clothing in order to improve comfort and durability. These are among the final steps before we meet with interested companies.
In addition, we have begun working on getting patents on parts of our project. Luckily, EUCYS and our national science competition have given us the opportunity to get in contact with professionals who can support us in this new and unfamiliar field.
Furthermore, meeting our city’s mayor was exciting as he seemed to be very interested and proud.
But, obviously, nothing can outmatch the fact I have now attended the Noble Prize Ceremony in Stockholm. I felt greatly honored to be part of such an outstanding event.
Anna, bearing in mind you are into chemistry and physics, have you decided yet what would be the perfect choice for your studies?
Anna: It is really hard for me to decide on what to study, because I am fascinated by the possibility of combining contrary disciplines such as mathematics and philosophy. Just studying chemistry or mathematics would not fulfill me, as I love artistry and languages as well.
That’s why I am thinking about studying neuroscience. It is an interdisciplinary field which combines many of my interests and is highly fascinating. I would love to do an internship in this field in order to see if my expectations match reality. An alternative could be Legal Psychology.
Can you tell us more about your general impressions from this year’s EUCYS in Dublin? What did you like the most regarding the competition and the other participants? What about the locals and the country itself?
EUCYS was an outstanding experience in many ways.
We are most thankful for meeting so many great people from different countries and getting to know their cultures. Seeing how much effort they had put into their projects was really impressive.
It didn’t feel like competition, though – more like spending time with peers while having great conversations. While we were in Dublin, we got to see a lot of the Irish culture as well. The locals were warmhearted and extremely humorous. It was, also, obvious that they were very proud of their country.
Who helped you the most while developing FleckProtec? Were there any precious pieces of advice given to you by your teachers or mentors, that you will never forget?
Our two mentors/teachers definitely helped us the most, especially in regards to organization and handling stress. We knew that we could always count on them, which helped us to focus on developing our protector and getting through the frustrating phases. We cannot thank them enough for everything they have done. We feel like they didn’t get enough recognition for everything they have invested in this project. They should be honored as well.
It took a lot of time and effort to develop FleckProtec – tell us more about the process and the most challenging part of it.
It took us about three years to develop FleckProtec. The initial phases included getting familiar with the fluid and running tests about how the different properties of the fluid work. The next step was to optimize the fluid so it could be used as a protector. Later on, we developed our own testing devices to test different features of the product, such as the feeling it creates during the contact with the skin. It took some time, as well, to get confirmation that all our test devices were legitimate. Afterward, we focused on forming the best possible shape for the protector, depending on the body part it was made for. At the moment, we are working on protective gear for the motorcycle industry.
What has inspired you to develop this specific kind of product? Was it the fact that you had spoken to numerous athletes who shared with you their most important problems after being injured, including limited freedom of movement?
Adrian: Ana was, actually, the one who discovered the benefits of starch and who thought more about what we could do with it if we were a bit more creative. She spent more than a year doing research on all the potential uses of starch and its characteristics, in order to make the most out of it. I joined the project in a later stage, to help with the engineering part and to work on a mold. To be honest, the greatest inspiration was the science itself, because we realized our invention could help so many people in reality.
The key feature of your protector is starch, as a part of a flexible silicone shell. Can you explain to us, from a scientific point of view, why starch was the most suitable protective component of FleckProtec?
It’s rather easy to use, and it is not toxic. You can also do a lot of science with it. Silicone, like many other materials, for example, might be dangerous to use in products like this. Although everybody knows about starch, so far not many people have experimented with it, probably due to the fact they did not find it interesting. However, in our case, that turned out to be a misconception. We also had to solve several challenges on the way, and one of the key ones was its sedimentation. What is good about starch is that it has very good flow properties.
What are your next steps, and what are the chances for the FleckProtec to be commercialized in the future?
The main aim is to make it work better, we are constantly working on improving the protector. It needs to be a bit more flexible and pleasant – that way we will be able to apply it on more body parts. It is a rather hard task, as you need to know a lot about the physics of falling and the composition of different body parts. We are working on making an alternative for starch as well, and developing a similar product with a different fluid. We would like to join forces with companies that would be able to invest in research regarding this field of science and to help us improve the product itself.
Still, our key goal has been and will always be science itself and having fun while turning ideas into reality! Both my sister and I, we strongly believe that every success comes as a result of a certain mindset. Our mindset arose from the fact we do something we love so much.
Photo credits: Fuldarer Zeitung
Title photo: Anna-Lena Bieneck