Hopewell Valley Central High School student figures out natural way to keep barnacles off boats

Charlotte Michaluk's project, “Simulating Slipping Snails: Mitigating Climate Change and Ocean-borne Invasive Species Transport with Biomimicry" won her a spot among 30 finalists in the Broadcom MASTERS competition.

Charlotte Michaluk was a student at Tollgate Middle School in Hopewell when she won first place in the Junior Division (middle school) of the 2020 Mercer Science and Engineering Fair (MSEF) last spring.

This qualified her to enter the Broadcom MASTERS Competition, where she advanced to the top 300, and recently to the top 30 finalists. Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars) normally takes place in Washington, D.C., but is virtual this year, as was the MSEF, both because of the pandemic.

Now a Hopewell Valley Central High School student, Charlotte is the younger sister of Sonja Michaluk, who was the Senior MSEF Grand Prize winner in 2018, 2019 and 2020, according to information provided by the Mercer Science and Engineering Club.

Her project was “Simulating Slipping Snails: Mitigating Climate Change and Ocean-borne Invasive Species Transport with Biomimicry.”

As a volunteer at the local Watershed Institute, and as a SCUBA diver, Charlotte has acquired a special concern for the aquatic world, according to the statement. A centuries-long problem for ships has been biofouling whereby algae, bacteria and barnacles accumulate on the hull where they increase the ship’s drag and thus increase the fuel required for propulsion. Also, by “hitching a ride” on the ship, the fouling organisms can become invasive species in destination ports.

Traditional anti-fouling has employed toxic chemicals or coatings.

Charlotte’s project examined natural ways that sea creatures resist biofouling with slimy coatings or tooth-like scales called denticles. Charlotte hypothesized that something similar could work on ship hulls. Her research and experiments showed that plastic coatings with shark skin-like denticles worked best, and even reduced the drag of a clean hull. The results can be of great benefit to shipping as well as to the marine environment, according to the statement.

This year’s finalists represent thousands of middle school students from every part of the United States. They were set to compete Oct. 16-21 in team challenges, in addition to being judged on their science research projects.