Students Invent Self-Heating Lifejacket, Win Science Fair Prize

‘Children are the future‘ a cliché statement, but one that is undeniably accurate. Each new generation carries the world further on, breaks through barriers, and creates new conveniences. Subsequently, students on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, have come up with something that’s not only incredible but also has the potential to save lives. They’ve even won a science fair prize for the invention. Two teen friends, Liam and Fraser, have created a self-heating life jacket. 


Motivated to Invent the Self-Heating Lifejacket

Liam Pope-Lau came up with the idea during a crisis. Pope-Lau told CTV News, “I was sailing, and I capsized. So, I was in the water, and even in– I think it was – July, it was really cold.” Liam ended up catching hypothermia. After that, he thought about the people who go through that and lose their lives. “I realized it kills almost, like, I think it was 8,000 people per year in the U.S. alone,” he said.

He teamed up with his friend, Fraser Tuck, and together they invented a self-heating life jacket. “It’s actually just a pouch to attach to a lifejacket that is filled with a chemical that reacts with the water,” Tuck explained. The chemical used in the self-heating life jacket is calcium chloride.


Chemical Compound to Stay Cozy

Calcium chloride is similar to sodium chloride in that they’re both salt compounds. The difference is that the sodium chloride has one chlorine atom, and calcium chloride has two chlorine atoms. Both are used to de-ice roads, so the two teens set to work trying to figure out how to implement this chemical compound into a lifejacket. After they perfected their invention, the pair of friends began taking the lifejacket to science fairs. Ultimately, at one fair they were granted a $5,000 award from the B.C. Science Fair Foundation. The boys say that one life-jacket pouch should last anywhere from 30-40 minutes. Ideally, that’s the amount of time it should take to be found by rescuers. 


Lifejacket Safety

Many factors increase safety while swimming in large bodies of water. The most pertinent being knowing how to swim. However, even the best swimmers are no match for roughly flowing waters. Lifejackets were designed to help improve the odds of survival in rough waters. It is important to find a lifejacket that fits properly, has an effective zipper and buckle, and doesn’t ride up over the face. In contrast, they don’t have a reputation for staving off the chill of freezing or cold waters.

Long term, the boys both shared, they dream that one day their self-heating lifejacket will be used on cruise ships, rescue boats, and ferries. They note that there’s money to be made but they are in agreement. The biggest reward is the difference their invention could make for the world.” I just want to see it actually save a life,” Tuck said.

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  1. Vancouver Island students invent self-heating life-jacket, win science fair prize.” CTV News Vancouver Island. December 18, 2022.
Leah Berenson
Freelance Writer
Leah is driven by learning and adventure. She has studied Journalism, Early Human Development, and Culinary Arts. When she’s not writing she can be found reading or hiking the Southwest.