Related to MAKE 08, Castaway
MakeShift 08: Analysis, Commentary, and Winners
by Lee D. Zlotoff
March 30, 2007
Kudos, castaways! Apparently this was a relatively straightforward MakeShift challenge, and virtually all of you who responded saw pretty much to the heart of the solution.
Humans can live for an extended period of time without solid food, but fresh uncontaminated water is another problem entirely. As a species composed of more than 80% water, with our critical body thermostat relying on a consistent method of (re)hydration for temperature regulation, we know that fresh water suitable for drinking is our top priority. And the logical solution in this situation was to construct a solar still that utilized desalination of salt water -- or the moisture in vegetation -- through evaporation.
It was apparent that the dark-colored windbreaker would heat up when exposed to the sun, thereby evaporating water relatively quickly from its surface, and the white nylon sailcloth would stay much cooler and could act as a condensation collector when the windbreaker gave up its heated contents. Some entrants also recognized that a closed system, one that was protected from the wind, would collect more condensed fresh water than if it were open to the wind, since the wind passing between the windbreaker evaporator and the sailcloth condenser would take water vapor with it. All things being equal, a larger solar still would make more fresh water from salt water in the same amount of time than a small one would, so more points were given for size and wind protection.
A few of you opted to use the matches to build a fire-heated still. While this might be theoretically feasible, given the nature and limits of the sailcloth and windbreaker this would be a very tricky operation requiring considerable time and care that might be better spent gathering food. And how long such a system could function before the materials involved were compromised by the fire was also a factor weighing against it.
One individual took an entirely different approach and designed a charcoal filtration system based on the principle of osmosis. The scientific principles involved were sound but the reverse osmosis systems that are used today in water purification plants are much more complex than the simplified design presented in this entry. For my money I would rather rely on the simplicity of an evaporation-based water desalination system. Still, it was a uniquely creative approach to the problem and, as such, worthy of attention.
You were also offered the option of selecting the celebrity of your choice to share this adventure if you so desired. On the face of it, this option seemed like a humorous aside and most of you either ignored it or rejected it on the basis that another person would simply be another mouth to feed and water. One entrant, perhaps deranged by the desperate situation, contemplated killing their celebrity partner for food, fluids, and the nifty cup that could be made from their skull. Let's hope none of us ever gets stranded with them. Most of you who opted for a celeb, however, followed your fantasies for the likes of Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson. Not bad choices really, if you consider that the rescue efforts to find them might be substantially more robust than those mounted for us mere mortals. But there was a deeper point to the celebrity option beyond simple amusement. While it's true two people require more food and water, your chances for survival are more than doubled by having another person along, be it for trapping and collecting food, constructing shelter, or general morale and sanity issues. We humans are ultimately social creatures and, particularly in dire circumstances, it is partnership, collaboration, and the combined efforts of bodies and wills that frequently make the difference between survival and extinction. The specific challenge here was to produce fresh water, but the larger challenge was to survive. If we're to do that, either as individuals or as a species, we'd do well to keep an eye on the big picture and make the most of all the options we have.
So, congrats to all of you for your excellent survival skills and to the two winners listed below. And a special Honorable Mention Award to the third-graders in the After School Science Club at Chapman Hill Elementary School in Salem, Oregon. Teacher Maureen Foelkl and her students Savannah Brown, Cory Francis, Marisa Chen, and Emily Farnell, took on this challenge as a science project and submitted an elaborate and impressive set of materials which contained an imaginative solution. MacGyver would be proud of you all!
The winners of the MakeShift Volume 08 Challenge are:
- MakeShift Master -- Plausible: John Hannan
- MakeShift Master -- Creative: Ben Bond
- Honorable Mention: Chapman Hill Elementary After School Science Club in Salem, OR
A special Honorable Mention Award to the third graders in the After School Science Club at Chapman Hill Elementary School in Salem, Oregon. Teacher Maureen Foelki and her students, Savannah Brown, Cory Francis, Marisa Chen and Emily Farnell, took on this challenge as a science project and submitted an elaborate and impressive set of materials which contained an imaginative solution. MacGyver would be proud of you all!
Teacher: Maureen Foelkl
- Savannah Brown
- Cory Francis
- Marisa Chen
- Emily Farnell
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May I just say that if the small sailboat was worth anything at all, it would have a polyester fabric sail rather than a nylon sail. Sails are rarely made of nylon for many reasons. Nylon fabric stretches, polyester fabric does not. Polyester fabric is stronger than nylon. Nylon degrades quickly from the UV rays of sunlight; polyester fabric does not age as quickly. The windbreaker probably would have been nylon. The only difference I can think it might have made for the Challenge is that any tent of stretched nylon fabric would tend to sag badly in the sunlight over a period of time and wouldn't last as long. On my island, I would have a regular polyester sailcloth sail--not nylon. Thanks for the magazine.
Posted by roeboat on April 02, 2007 at 14:41:11 Pacific Time
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