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Vancouver Island students invent self-heating life-jacket, win science fair prize

Oak Bay, B.C. -

At Turkey Head Breakwater in Oak Bay, there's a reason no one's swimming.

Temperature-wise, there's little difference in the water between December and August. Dipping a toe in always feels frigid.

And it felt frigid over the summer when Grade 8 student Liam Pope-Lau had an experience that led him to an idea.

"I was sailing and I capsized," Pope-Lau told CTV News.

"So, I was in the water, and even in – I think it was – July, it was really cold."

The chilly dip led Pope-Lau to a deep dive on hypothermia.

"I realized it kills almost, like, I think it was 8,000 people per year in the U.S. alone," he said.

Pope-Lau teamed up with his friend Fraser Tuck, and the self-heating life-jacket was born.

"It's actually just a pouch to attach to a life-jacket that is filled with a chemical that reacts with the water," Tuck explained.

The chemical? Calcium chloride. The same stuff used to de-ice sidewalks and driveways in the winter.

The pair started taking their invention to science fairs, eventually earning a $5,000 award from the B.C. Science Fair Foundation.

The students say one pouch lasts 30 to 40 minutes, which could warm a person in the water long enough for rescuers to find them.

The boys said they imagined cruise ships and ferries using their life-jackets in the future, along with coast guard and search and rescue crews.

As a product, Pope-Lau and Tuck think their life-jacket has potential, but the best return on their investment won't be financial.

"I just want to see it actually save a life," Tuck said.

With files from CTV Vancouver Island's Jordan Cunningham Top Stories


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