Full Steam Ahead!

This year my associate James Thomson and I will be testing whether the pressure produced from dry ice sublimation could be a way to generate energy for Mars exploration through a pressure engine. As many people know, partly in thanks to the hit motion picture by 20th Century Fox “The Martian”, Mars that is our neighbor planet in the solar system, but what people may not know is that at Mars’s polar caps there is tons of dry ice. One glacier at the south pole has an equivalent volume of dry ice as Lake Superior, and if you have ever seen a dry ice bomb, it can generate extreme pressures and room temperature in a closed container. That pressure we hypothesized could be used to run and engine, but what could we use to get practice with an engine using pressure? A model Steam Engine! Yes, a steam engine like the ones you see in old 1800’s pictures but on a smaller scale (You sometimes have to step into the past to help build the future).Chase
We had borrowed a model steam engine from the Chemistry teacher Mr. Tuckey and planned to test it out by saturating a paper towel with 95% ethanol to boil water (we are not to dry ice yet) to push a piston, and spin a flywheel which would spin a DC motor that doubled as a generator, and measure electricity with a multimeter. Then again, everything doesn’t always go to plan! When we lit the towel and the water started boiling, we noticed that there was a pressure leak before it got to the piston and we were not able to get the flywheel turning, but on the bright side, enough pressure was built up to use the steam whistle :). But failure is a part of science!