By Matt de Simone
Students in the Computer Systems Technology III class at the Botetourt Technical Education Center (BTEC) recently dropped computer components in a fish tank because, why not?
Each year, Computer Systems/Cybersecurity teacher Chris Shaffer gives his students a list of optional, “fun side projects” to work on throughout the semester. His students wanted to submerge a computer in mineral oil this semester to see how electricity would conduct itself in the liquid.
“The goal is to teach (the students) about electricity and how it conducts through different materials,” Shaffer said in a recent interview about the project. “If you stuck a regular computer underwater, the entire thing would short out. Mineral oil has different properties. It’s missing many impurities that cause electricity to conduct, so it’s completely safe. In the computer’s mind, it’s basically sitting in the air. It’s missing the key components that cause electricity to travel.”
Shaffer expressed the project’s main appeal to his students is because it’s “cool.”
The students filled a 10-gallon fish tank with mineral oil purchased from Amazon to begin the project. From there, the students submerged standard computer components in the oil and hooked them up to a motherboard. The computer operates in a cooler environment than the actual air in terms of performance and, oddly enough, runs better while submerged in mineral oil.
Shaffer explained that he completed this project when he was a kid. Knowing what needed to be done proved helpful as his third-year students decided to achieve the same task, but on a grander scale.
The Virginia Star Training and Refurbishment Program (VA STAR) provided Shaffer’s class the resources to complete the fish tank project. VA STAR is a state-wide program that teaches students to refurbish surplus computer hardware from government agencies and private companies. The refurbished computers are donated to families, organizations, and school districts in need. Students work towards earning industry-standard certifications from companies such as CompTIA, Cisco, Microsoft, and Oracle through participation in the program, which paves the way for both higher education and well-paying jobs.
“This class is tough,” Shaffer added. “It’s the toughest computer course offered in Botetourt County. They’re doing college-level work, and the day-to-day can get tedious and strenuous. Having a fun project to watch them being so engaged with is everything. All of them were excited and happy to do it. The results were fantastic.”
Shaffer’s students are currently working on another side project involving a 25-monitor “wall.” The Building Trades students built a mount that acts as a grid for supporting 25 monitors. Shaffer envisions his students will complete the project by next year.
For more about Botetourt Technical Education Center’s activities and projects, visit btec.bcps.k12.va.us and follow the school on Facebook for updates.