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June 2014 Issue
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David Jagoutz’s early warning system

David Jagoutz with his prototype hypothermia sensing device

Fourteen-year-old David Jagoutz is from good mountain stock. His dad, Aran, is an instructor for the Mountain Safety Council. So David’s had the dangers of the backcountry drummed into him from an early age, including the threat of hypothermia.

One of the issues, David discovered, is that people suffering from the early onset of hypothermia tend not to tell other members of the group they’re struggling. They fear they may be letting the side down. So David’s created a device for climbers to let others know when one of the party is getting dangerously cold, without putting that person under pressure.

His device links thermometers placed under the arm pits to a series of lights on each climber’s helmet. When their temperature’s normal all the lights stay on, but as it drops the lights switch off, two by two. If all the lights go out, the climber’s temperature is dangerously low.

“The user won’t even notice the lights,” says David, who attends James Hargest College, in Invercargill. “But their companions will notice. It uses lights that are easy to spot. It’s quite comfortable to wear and not very heavy.

“Often people are embarrassed to admit when they’re in trouble and will not tell the group. Using this would mean their companions know and could assist them.”

David hasn’t yet tested it in the hills but is very confident it’s accurate.

“I tested it in heated water and used two other thermometers to make sure it gave me an accurate reading. I’ve taken it to a couple of experts too who have given me good feedback.

“I’ve made a good prototype and there’s not much more development required to use it properly. If anyone shows an interest, I’m happy to develop it further.”

David’s project has been recognised by the Royal Society of New Zealand in its Genesis Energy’s Realise the Dream award. The award recognised 20 of the country’s most talented secondary school science students for their scientific research or engineering projects.

And MSC’s Andrew Hobman also praises the youngster’s ingenuity. “Hypothermia is a killer in the mountains – it can quietly creep up on you and others don’t always recognise it, so good on him for trying to find a solution to the problem.

“If you can catch it early it’s much easier to warm people up but when it gets to a certain level it can take a very long time to warm up internally.

“We fully support people doing research that can make a difference and hypothermia’s a big issue. Often, great ideas spark other ideas and you often end up with a simpler, more practical option.”