For 16-year old Destynn Keuchel, of Solon, outer space has been an enigma since he was a young boy.
So, he leaped at the opportunity to explore further. So much so, that the Hawken School 11th-grader was recently named an award-winning young inventor as part of the virtual Ohio Kid Inventor Day celebration last week for his work on space-related problems.
As part of his recognition, he received the Honda Industry Award at the 2020 Ohio Invention Convention, that included a $375 College Saving award and an invitation to the 2021 National Invention Convention. He qualified to present at the 2020 State Science Fair, where he won the Case Western Reserve University Engineering and Applied Science Award, the first place EWI Award and the First Place Governor’s Thomas Edison Award for Advanced Materials.
The Thomas Edison Award came with a $1,250 scholarship.
Destynn’s invention involved improving the durability of a solar sail, something that he worked on after first being introduced to the sails in 2018 as part of a tour of NASA Langley.
“My invention tackled the problem of durability,” Destynn explained. “With large size and light weight, comes easy tear-ability of the sail material.”
That tear-ability is a major problem as the sail would inevitably encounter space objects that could puncture holes and populate tears throughout the sails. In addition, since solar sails are too big to be produced in one piece, smaller portions are seamed together, adding another layer of lessened durability.
Destynn’s invention utilized the seaming process to turn a potential weakness into a stabilizer that offered greater tear resistance and resulted in a more durable sail.
“I implemented low and high melting temperature plastic fibers in the seaming process to increase its durability and invented a tear-ability tester to determine the seam strength,” he explained.
His invention yielded a 73-percent increase in solar sail tear-resistance compared to the current seaming method, he noted, which
would decrease its chance of being destroyed due to tear propagation in space.
To bring the invention to fruition, Destynn worked for well over a year, testing seams on multiple solar sail materials with different polymers and parameters.
The invention itself also required another invention to test it, he continued, which caused him to think deeper about the problems he was solving.
“Not only was I trying to find a way to increase the duration of space missions, but I was also creating a norm to standardize the tear-ability of different seaming processes – one that required practical design and physics concepts.
“In the end, the underlying concepts of the project, consisting of physics, engineering and polymer science resonated with my scientific interests.”
Destynn said that learning about the potential of the solar sails being the fastest human-made instrument peaked his interest in the sail specifically and increased his appreciation for such a concept.
“Feeling the sail’s tear-ability with my own hands during my tour of NASA Langley opened my eyes to its inherent problem of fragility that would likely prohibit its mission lifetime,” he said. “Knowing its importance, in combination with being such an intriguing application of technology, drove me to attempt the creation of a mechanism that could increase its viability of long-term space travel.”
His future studies will involve the creation and application of scientific ideas, something that has been near a lifelong passion, Destynn said. He hopes to study some sort of engineering in college.
At Hawken, Destynn pursues a variety of interests, including chess and speech and debate clubs, as well as finance, track and field and community engagement.
“I try to be very involved and learn as much as I can while I have access to such great opportunities at the school,” he said.
This was his first time being involved with the Ohio Kid Inventor Day, although he has participated int he Ohio Invention Convention in both fourth and 10th grade, he said.