Mulch ado about something

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Age: 17

Address: 190th St., Alden

Livelihood: senior at Alden-Conger High School; works with his father mowing lawns

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Family: father, Brent; mother, Pam; sister, Ariel, 15

Interesting fact: Max is a self-described “smart aleck.”

Mowing lawns with his dad gave one high school senior the idea to make a science fair project, which won a $2,000 Seagate award.

Max Keller attends Alden-Conger High School and won an award at the Minnesota State Science and Engineering Fair, which was held March 26 to March 28.

“He came up with the idea as a junior when he was mowing lawns,” Dave Bosma said.

Bosma is Keller’s physics teacher. Keller used him as a resource while making his project. The project demonstrates how a compost pile could be used to heat a greenhouse or a small room.

“I mow lawns with my dad and we pile grass clippings in a truck,” Keller said. “I noticed that they could get to 90 or 100 degrees.”

Grass, hay, leaves, manure or vegetable scraps in a compost pile make heat from bacteria and the decomposing process. Keller’s project ran geothermal coils through a compost pile and then into a transmission cooler. Water would be pushed through the coils by a circulation pump. The compost would heat up the water in the coils, then air from the room is blown through the transmission cooler. The air is heated by the hot water in the pipes, which is a lot like how a radiator works.

“It’s the perfect application for a greenhouse because of the carbon dioxide and heat it makes,” Keller said.

While the compost is decomposing it makes carbon dioxide and heat, which would be good for a greenhouse, which needs heat and carbon dioxide to feed the plants.

“It could also work for a rural home,” Keller said.

Even when it’s extremely cold outside you can make a compost pile. It also decreases the amount of garbage you have because some food scraps would be used for composting. Meat and bread will not work in a compost pile because they have too many carbohydrates. Vegetables, fruit, grass and hay work best.

Keller first went to the South Central/Southwest Minnesota Regional Science and Engineering Fair in February.

“I had some success at the regional fair,” Keller said. “I didn’t think I was going to do nearly that good.”

He was so successful that he was able to advance to the state science fair. Many people from the community helped Keller with his project. Mrs. Gerry’s supplied him with potato peelings for his compost pile, and Johnson Heating & Air Conditioning helped him with answering questions such as what sort of materials to use. Keller also had help from Bosma, who said the students were hard workers.

“A lot of times they’re here on weekends,” Bosma said.

Bosma is proud of his students. He likes that even though they’re from a small town they still have opportunities.

“When he won, we competed against kids from private schools,” Bosma said.

Bosma has also coached other successful students. Brandon McTague, 18, won an award from the Navy for his project about an engine run on compressed air. Mark Krueger, 18, won a $2,500 scholarship to St. Cloud State University for the work he and a partner did on a magnetic coil gun.

Keller won the Rising Star Award from Seagate Technology at the Minnesota State Science and Engineering Fair. He will now go to compete in Houston, Texas, at the International Sustainable World Project Olmpiad from April 14 to April 19. In May he will compete at the International Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose, Calif., with more than 1,500 high schools students.

Keller plans to go to Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. He wants to study aerospace engineering or environmental engineering. He wants to do anything that requires math because he likes math. Bosma will continue to coach kids from his classes with science fair projects.

“They get to apply what they learned in school,” Bosma said. “I’m a strong believer in doing and applying.”