It may be a bit over cliched to say children are the future of the world, but nonetheless it is true. As parents, everything we do is to ensure that our children will grow to be positive forces in the future. We send them to school to provide them with whatever we can so they can become productive adults. The children we see around us today will one day be the ones leading, changing, and bettering the world we live in. One bright student in northwestern New Jersey is already paving the way for engineering feats with a drone he spent the last two years designing.
Zechen (Peter) Wei is a senior at the Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science (PRISMS) in Princeton, NJ. PRISMS was founded in 2013 by Chinese real estate magnate Jiang Bairong as a boarding school that fuses the educational principals of both the United States of America and China, heavily focusing on STEM based education. The classes are small and intimate with around 70 students enrolled in the entire school. Pengzhi Liu, the Board Chair & Head of School said, “This is a school that merges the best educational philosophies from the East and the West. I would like our school to be a place where students are anxious to attend, feel very comfortable, and a place that they are reluctant to leave. I hope each of our students finds the school a place where they can demonstrate their talents, be happy, and to realize personal and individual growth.” At PRISMS high school students are allowed to work in spaces that would normally be found in highly specialized universities and professional environments.
One of the requirements of students at PRISMS is to develop a two year research program, fostering an appreciation of how working researchers develop concepts in the real world. As a young child, Wei was passionate about technology and engineering and PRISMS was a perfect fit for him. One area of technology that always fascinated Wei was drones, but it wasn’t until becoming a student at PRISMS that he began tinkering with the idea of creating his own drone. He had an idea that his junior and senior research project would revolve around drone based development, which eventually led to him setting a new world record.
His project mentor was Adam Kemp who is the head of the Applied Engineering and Computer Science department at PRISMS. Before joining the team at PRISMS, Adam spent 10 years teaching and developing groundbreaking programs at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, one of America’s top public high schools. He also spent a summer working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and wrote a book called “The Makerspace Workbench” that is an overview of his educational principals and a hands on learning tool. Wei said, “When thinking about research projects, my instructor, Mr. Kemp, encouraged me to challenge the world record.”
The world record that Mr. Kemp was referring to was the one previously set by Dirk Brunner, a German engineer in 2016. The record awarded to Mr. Brunner by the Guinness Book of World Records was for the “Fastest 100m Ascent by a Quadcopter” with a speed set at 3.871 seconds. This was just the motivation that Wei needed to guide his research. Dr. Yang Yang, PRISMS director of admissions, was very impressed with the dedication and work Wei put into his project. “He did calculations as per physics and math and saw that this speed can be faster,” Yang said. “Over one and half years he worked to improve the function of the quadcopter.” The work included countless 3D CAD models, simulations, and hours of detailed analysis on theoretical performance, all leading up to a working prototype of a small intricately designed drone.
On October 25, 2019, the work that Wei began the previous year as a junior finally payed off. In the school’s courtyard, surrounded by his friends, teachers, faculty, and representatives from the Guinness Book of World Records, Wei prepared his drone for launch. Wei chronicled much of the work leading up to this day on Instagram, so it made sense that he shared a video from his record breaking launch on his Instagram account. Wei described the moment perfectly and simply in his own comments as, “WOW, that’s fast!!!” The countdown begins, and then you hear the whirring of the drone before even realizing how high up in the air it is. When you go back to watch it a second time, it’s amazing just how fast the drone rockets into the air.
Wei reset the record for the Fastest 100m Ascent by a Quadcopter with an ascent of 2.732 seconds. That is 1.085 seconds faster than what was set by Mr. Brunner two years previously. “When I first came to PRISMS as a freshman, I never thought of being able to go this far,” said Wei. “I am excited about hands-on creativity. Turning what’s in my head into reality in my hands always feels like magic. In the past few years at PRISMS, I have stayed curious and have done a lot of innovative engineering projects…After a lot of hard work with simulations and trial-and-error, I finally achieved my goal.” If this is the kind of work that students like Wei are coming up with now, before they are even in college, it’s no wonder where the saying the children are our future comes from. The ideas and results that Wei and his peers will come up with can quite possibly be the ideas that change the future.
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