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Saving water, lacing sneakers: Student engineers get creative

Student engineers took over the Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School in Irvine with their self-lacing sneakers, dog treadmill, toilet paper roll dispenser and other projects.

This is the second year that the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education, or CIJE, has held its Young Engineers Conference on the West Coast. The national nonprofit gathered 35 student-engineering teams for last year's event. This year, more than 80 teams arrived at Tarbut V'Torah's multipurpose room on Monday.

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"At this conference, we want students to create and present projects that have social value and practical use," said Adrian Krag, CIJE's West Coast STEM programs director. "That's what engineering is."

STEM refers to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math.

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The national center, since its founding in 2001, has worked to enhance technology and engineering programs in 150 Jewish elementary, middle and high schools in 13 states.

The conference invited students from nine Jewish high schools in the Southern California area that the center has supported. This included Tarbut V'Torah.

For the event, Tarbut V'Torah ninth-graders Avi Kister, Ethan Amar and Tova Zalomek built a sensor that attaches to a showerhead to indicate the ideal shower-taking temperature.

"When people first turn on their shower, the water is cold and they wait for it to get hot," Avi said. "As they're waiting, they could be making coffee or doing something else. They have no idea when their water is hot enough to use."

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During their demonstration, a showerhead dispensed cold water as the sensor measured the water's increasing temperature. Once the temperature reached 80 degrees, the showerhead stopped running and the sensor made a beeping noise.

"When you hear that the water's stopped, you can go back to the shower whenever you're ready," Avi said. "You can wave your hand in front of the sensor and then it'll run the hot water. This will keep people from wasting hot water."

The team said it will later focus on building a system to recycle the cold water that would otherwise be wasted in the shower.

Other creations exhibited at the conference include one that was reminiscent of a gadget in "Back to the Future 2" that enabled Marty's shoes to lace themselves; a small treadmill for pups — the team hopes to someday have it release treats when a dog meets a walking goal; and a toilet roll dispenser that automatically replaces the empty roll.

STEM courses developed by CIJE have been offered at Tarbut V'Torah for two years, enabling the school's students to learn how to program and build the components of their projects.

For Krag, the importance of an engineering curriculum in schools could not be more relevant in this age of technology.

"The world doesn't need another thumb drive," Krag said. "The world needs kids who are ready to go out and make a difference in the world."

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