For his Miami high school science fair project, Felipe Gomez del Campo set out to discover how plasma and flames interacted—using a Bunsen burner and propane from his family’s grill. Four years later, with the help of think[ box ] and support from a generous alumni donor, that backyard project has taken off: Gomez del Campo has formed his own company, filed a patent and is working on a way to use plasma to increase the efficiency of jet engines.
“The idea is that the plasma, which is the fourth state of matter—essentially a soup of charged high-energy particles—will interact with the large fuel molecules to promote reactions, which are critical to combustion,” he said.
The large fuel molecules first must be broken apart through a series of reactions before combustion can occur, Gomez del Campo explained. By ionizing the air-fuel mixture, he hopes to accelerate these reactions—leading to more stable combustion and lower fuel consumption for jet engines, he said.
Though Gomez del Campo since has raised more than $30,000 for his company, FGC Plasma Solutions LLC, an initial award from donor Ben Gomes (CWR ’90) revved his project to life. With the funding, Gomez del Campo produced a proof-of-concept design in the innovation center and used its 3-D printers to create mockups for his presentations.
Gomes’ $10,000 gift supported 41 student think[ box ] projects with funding of up to $250 per project.
Now, the think[ box ] Student Project Fund has been renewed and expanded, thanks to a $50,000 gift by the George W. Codrington Charitable Foundation that will provide material support to students working on personal projects, team projects, design competitions, entrepreneurial activities and more. Project topics can include engineering, art, science, humanities or any other, and students at all levels are encouraged to apply online at thinkbox.case.edu/projects/fund.
The maximum funding amount this year is $2,500 per project—10 times the top award last year, which already made a significant difference for students like Gomez del Campo.
“The leap from idea to proof of concept is a pretty big one, and the project fund was just the help I needed to accelerate development,” said Gomez del Campo.
Gomez del Campo now is further developing the prototype and hopes to test the invention at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. He also is working with Blackstone LaunchPad and the School of Law’s IP Venture Clinic to bring his idea to fruition (his work with the clinic recently was the subject of a Plain Dealer article). His end goal is to partner with a fuel nozzle or jet engine equipment manufacturer to bring the product to market.
“This project,” said think[ box ] manager Ian Charnas, “may have huge commercialization potential.”
It’s projects like Gomez del Campo’s that the Codrington Foundation hopes to help turn into a reality through the think[ box ] Student Project Fund. The Cleveland-based foundation supports higher education, hospitals, arts groups and youth projects.
To apply for think[ box ] funding, the applicant or at least one person on the team must be a Case Western Reserve University student at the time of application. Teams working on a sponsored research project are not eligible to apply.
Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis; all applicants will be notified of their award status within one month of submitting the online application.
Visit thinkbox.case.edu/projects/fund for more information and to apply.