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Team Also Takes Top Prize in International Science Competition Marking First US Win in Contest History

July 11, 2012/Elizabeth, NJ – A NJ high-school science club’s invention proved the golden goose as it took first prize in the International Gildor Family Projects and Inventions Competition.  The team from Elizabeth, NJ’s Rav Teitz Mesivta Academy (RTMA) Division of the Jewish Educational Center (JEC), topped dozens of finalists from around the world in developing a sophisticated and environmentally friendly system for dispersing geese.  The win also marked the first time that a viable civilian solution for combating potentially fatal bird-strikes on aircraft has been achieved.

The FAA estimates a national aviation cost of $400 million a year due to birds striking planes, usually upon take-off or landing.  According to US Bird Strike Committee chair John Ostrom, since 1988, over 200 deaths have been reported worldwide due to bird strikes.  2009’s “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency aircraft landing in New York’s Hudson River trained the public’s eye on this under-reported issue, when US Airways Captain Sully Sullenberger safely landed his plane in the water after a flock of geese collided with his engines shortly after taking off from New York’s La Guardia Airport. That drama captured the public’s attention and raised anxiety over this issue among both pilots and travellers alike.

In an effort to choose a relevant and societal challenge for their annual science contest, Gildor organizers tasked competing students with designing a system that would minimize the risk of bird collision with aircraft. Finalists competed in four aspects of achievement: creativity, design, effort, and function in science. 

The winning team, lead by RTMA science instructor Ken Dietz, was comprised of seven 9th and 10th graders, including: Rafi Taub and Noam Shachak of Staten Island; Brian Goldman of East Brunswick; Uri Shalmon, Tani Ben-Haim, and Micah Leibowitz of Highland Park; and Eitan Adler of Springfield.

In careful consideration of both the geese and the environment, the team utilized a “green energy” solar cell to power their multifaceted system.  The design included a series of devices to scatter geese, such as loud-speakers to broadcast distress calls and predator sounds, an ethanol cannon, and an early warning radio apparatus for pilots.

“The important feature was the radio and the fact that we designed a system, not just one unit,” said Rafi Taub, the team’s captain. “Also attention to every aspect of the project — even the choice of paint — was considered. We painted it red and white to make it clearly visible and identify it as a non-moving object at an airport.”

While there has been some experimentation with small portable radar units at various airports and by the military, no civilian standard has yet been adopted to deal with the issue of bird-strikes on a mass scale.  Winning team members have expressed optimism that their efforts may one day result in the implementation of their devices at airports around the world.  One student exclaimed, “I can’t believe that I am only in high-school and have already been part of a project that could help save millions of lives! I am so proud to be a member of JEC’s RTMA team!”  

The annual competition was hosted by the Israel Center for Excellence through Education at the Israel Arts and Science Academy, with the finals held on June 28 in Jerusalem.  It was the third time in three years that an RTMA team from the Jewish Educational Center has won the US round of competition, but the first time they have taken the top prize on the international level. It was also the first time a school from outside Israel has won.

“When the call came through to the school office,” Associate Dean Rabbi Eliyahu Teitz said, “there were whoops of joy, we were so elated.  Maybe the third time was the charm!  At the JEC, we strive to provide the tools, environment, and opportunity for our students to think out-of-the-box and create, so that they may positively affect others and improve the world around them.  I am very proud of our team and their broad-reaching achievement.  This is what our school is all about!” 

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