Christopher Columbus Awards


Amy Schaffner
(423) 772-4881
Stephanie Hallman
Christopher Columbus Awards

Project Developed by Students in Roan Mountain, Tennessee, Wins Gold Medals in National Science/Community Service Competition Held at Walt Disney World ®

Students developed S.L.I.D.E., a solar-powered warning system for playgrounds

AUBURN, N.Y. — June 14, 2013 — A S.T.E.M Science Team of sixth, seventh and eighth grade students from Tennessee and North Carolina, tackled the problem of dangerously hot playground surfaces.

Students Lang and Cameron Schaffner, Katherine Fitzpatrick and Nathan Hardy and their coach Amy Schaffner were chosen as Gold Medal winners in the Christopher Columbus Awards, a nationwide competition that challenges middle school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities, with each team member receiving a $2,000 scholarship.

The River Rangers Team Photo
Left to right: Kate Fitzpatrick, Cameron Schaffner, Nathaniel Hardy, Lang Schaffner and Coach Amy Schaffner.

The students researched the serious problem of playground equipment located in direct sunlight becoming hot enough to cause second to third-degree burns to children, and wanted to make the equipment safer.

The team stated, "If playground visitors are not made aware and warned when the surface of playground equipment is hot, this hidden danger can pose a serious threat."

The students invented Solar Light Indicating Danger Ecologically — S.L.I.D.E., a solar-powered warning system designed to detect surface temperature and to visually alert playground visitors when the surface becomes dangerously hot. The team has developed a warning light, similar to a stoplight. A solar panel will convert the sun's energy and charge a 24-volt battery which will store and provide power. A laser thermometer will be positioned to measure the equipment's surface temperature and relay it to a warning light with an audible pulse. The light will indicate green for cool and red for hot.

Team Wins Trip to National Championship Week in Florida

The team and coach won an all-expense-paid trip to Walt Disney World® Resort where they competed in the Christopher Columbus Awards National Championship Week and participated in the Christopher Columbus Academy, a custom-designed educational program conducted by scientists, engineers and educators. The program reveals the science and technology behind the thrills and excitement of the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Disney's Hollywood Studios.® 

Positive Community Change

The Christopher Columbus Awards challenge teams of middle school students to explore and discover opportunities for positive change in their communities using science, technology, engineering and math. The program is now in its 17th year and has attracted more than 19,000 students from diverse backgrounds all across America. The program is sponsored by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation ( and is endorsed by the Association for Middle Level Education and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Past winners have included a team from San Diego, California, that secured a provisional patent for a specialized seat cushion design that uses sensory feedback to train people to maintain a healthy posture while sitting at a computer, and a team from Gahanna, Ohio, that designed a grocery store conveyor belt that constantly sanitizes.

Countrywide Participation

The program attracts many students who may not typically enter a science competition. The Christopher Columbus Foundation believes the teamwork aspect and community focus draw a broader range of students.

About the Sponsor

The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is an independent federal government agency created by congress in 1992 to encourage and support discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind. Please visit its website at

For more information, call 800-291-6020 or visit

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