By Ashley Rader
A trip to the playground includes a lot of things: a trip across the monkey bars, soaring on the swings and zooming trips down the slide.
For some youngsters it also means burned or injured skin because of the hot surface temperatures of the playground equipment.
Two home-school students from Roan Mountain and their teammates have a plan to put that problem on ice.
To combat heat-related playground injuries, the four homeschool students have created a prototype device that measures the temperature of playground slides, a project that earned them a trip to Walt Disney World and a place in the finals of a nationwide competition.
Eighth-grader Lang Schaffner and sixth-grader Cameron Schaffner, both from Roan Mountain, along with seventh-grader Katherine Fitzpatrick and sixth-grader Nathaniel Hardy, both from Avery County, N.C., will compete in this week’s Christopher Columbus Awards National Championship Week for a chance to win a $25,000 grant to produce their project and bring it to their community.
“The object was for them to address a community problem and to develop a solution using science, technology, engineering and math,” said Amy Schaffner, the students’ coach and homeschool instructor. “The projects could range from a device to an awareness program.”
Schaffner said the students decided to build a device to warn playground visitors to hot surface temperatures after Lang watched a report on the local news about the possibility of burns from slides.
“They asked if the slides around here would really get that hot,” she said. “They decided to test the slides in local playgrounds to see if they did.”
Equipped with a non-contact laser thermometer, the students visited parks in Elizabethton, Roan Mountain and Elk Park, N.C., to take readings of temperatures on the equipment. They visited parks in late September on sunny days when the air temperatures were in the mid-to-high 80s.
The results might be surprising.
The highest reading was 167 degrees on a light tan plastic slide in an Elk Park playground. A dark-colored plastic slide in Elizabethton’s Kiwanis Park had a surface temperature of 161 degrees.
“People don’t think that plastic slides get that hot,” Schaffner said. “They expect metal slides to be hotter but they aren’t aware that plastic can be just as hot. This was done at the end of September. It wasn’t that hot outside but the surface on the slides were really hot.”
Armed with their new knowledge about playground temperatures, the students built a system called S.L.I.D.E. – Solar Light Indicating Danger Ecologically – that uses a non-contact laser thermometer attached to a solar-powered programmable logic controller to monitor surface temperatures. The controller is attached to a light made to resemble a traffic light. If the temperatures are too hot, the light will be red. If the temperatures are in the safe range, the light will be green.