Eureka! Alumni wins Prime Minister's Science Prize

Jonathan Chan, a Sir Paul Callaghan Eureka! Awards finalist two years in a row in 2016 and 2017, was today awarded the Prime Minister's Future Science Prize worth $50,000 for his 3D spiders web invention.

Seventeen-year-old Jonathan Chan today received the $50,000 Prime Minister's Future Science Prize for his sophisticated, 3D-printed mesh, which emulates a spider web.

The innovation's purpose is collecting fog to provide good-quality drinking water in developing nations that most need it.

His fascination with the idea came after reading about a global, million-dollar competition to harvest water from the air.

With help from his teachers at Auckland Grammar School, and Auckland University researchers Dr Duncan McGillivray and Shinji Kihara, he began exploring where he could take the concept.

While there were already some basic fog collection systems, Jonathan sought to make a mesh that mimicked wetted spider silk or cactus spine, by controlling its size and structure, and adding a chemical coating.

Using detailed calculations and sophisticated lab tests, he found a suitable mesh coating of polystyrene, a hydrophobic polymer, and refined the concentration of the chemicals to overcome problems of clogging the mesh's pores.

"Mine is more fringe research and could be applied to the real world but whether it can be simplified and taken to a mass scale depends on demand," he said.

"I hope there is a future for this technology."

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