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Ideas Take Off at Airport Thanks to Partnership

(Source: Jason Weinstein)

It began as a class project in 2009. William Ziegler wanted his Binghamton University class to enter a contest run by the Federal Aviation Administration - but not necessarily to show off their aeronautical chops.

"What I was looking for was a way for the students to really understand the importance of communication skills by entering this national competition," said Ziegler, Associate Professor at the
Watson School of Engineering at Binghamton University.

But their idea to use a geothermal energy system to heat the airport's aircraft parking ramp in the Winter, and help cool the terminal in the summer won first prize. And after that the federal and state governments have awarded $1.2 million in grants to make the idea a reality.

"When the students are putting together these concepts and deciding what to go forth with, we serve as their sounding board. And we'll talk about whether, one, it's a real problem and, two, whether or not it's realistic," said Broome County Commissioner of Aviation Carl Beardsley
Since 2009 a BU team has earned a first-place win in the FAA contest every year. The latest winning ideas involve a noise-cancelling system that would lessen the din of the airport in surrounding buildings and staining runway concrete a darker color so that it absorbs more solar energy to make it less susceptible to icing.

"It was really, really exciting. At first I was nervous going into a federal building and talking in front of all these people but it was really exciting to sit there and go through it as well as listen to the other teams that presented," said team member Tim Friedmann.

"We compete against the best aeronautical universities and the best aviation aeronautical departments in the world. And we win," said Ziegler.

To date the geothermal project is the only one to receive funding but the partnership between the airport, the BU class, and local engineering firm McFarlane-Johnson keep bringing innovative ideas to the table that could one day become reality.

"You never know. They're always doing research and it might be one of our projects they pick up on next," said Ziegler.

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