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Students team up to create prize-winning cell phone case

A Regional Science Fair was held at David Crockett earlier this month, naming two of its senior students winners for their “Simply Solar” project.
“It’s truly the best science fair I have ever witnessed,” Director of Schools Ron Dykes said during the Washington County Board of Education meeting on March 6.
Dykes said the science fair featured many presentations and was judged by East Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee.
Kyle Gomolka and his teammate Tristan Slagle won $200 and had their names engraved on a plaque.
The seniors’ project was a solar-powered cell phone case.
“We both have engineering interests, and it came together,” Slagle said. “It sounded like a good idea at the time. It was a joke that turned into ‘hey we can really do it.’ ”
The students began working on the project around October and November of last year, doing preliminary research.
Slagle said their teacher, Dr. Beth Hopkins, helped them a lot with the project, especially in researching how solar panels work.
After the research was completed, the students began putting the cell phone case together.
Slagle said they spent about 60 percent of their time on research and the other 40 percent on actual work.
Gomolka said they purchased a solar panel, then stripped out the solar panel to reveal a circuit board.
Next, an appropriate design was created that would allow everything to fit in a phone case.
The solar panel is approximately 2 inches wide by a 1.5 inches long, and the case is 1.25 inches thick and about 7 inches long. Slagle said it looks like an average phone case, but it is thicker and longer.
“We had to make it that long to fit everything,” he said. “It can be smaller, but as a prototype it’s nice.”
With solar power, Slagle said, it takes about 20 hours to charge in direct sunlight compared to three hours using an electrical charge.
Although the team is happy with their project, working with solar power gave them a new appreciation for advances that still need to be made.
“We realized that solar energy really isn’t good enough,” Slagle said. “It hasn’t come far along enough to be able to keep up with regular ways of energy.”
Still, Gomolka said, the solar powered cell phone case has potential, and the students hope to patent their project.
Gomolka said after graduation he plans to attend East Tennessee State University for a semester before he hopes to transfer to the University of Tennessee.
He said he wants to study electrical engineering before going into the Navy for aviation electronics.
“I’ve never been really good with electronics, but always wanted to be creative about it,” Gomolka said.
Although Slagle does not know his specific career path, he knows he wants to study engineering at the University of Tennessee.
“It’s not going to be a day-to-day,” kind of job, he said of engineering. “There will be something new every day.”