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student team who attended nasa competition
The team is the first Hawaiʻi group to participate in NASA’s contest.

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa research team presented their ideas to improve fire-resistant gear currently on the market for firefighters to NASA experts who study fire shelters that are deployed during forest fire emergency situations.

Led by Shu-Hwa Lin from the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources’ (CTAHR) Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, Fashion Design and Merchandising program, the team presented their innovations during NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project Innovation and Tech Transfer Idea Competition (MITTIC) held at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, from November 29 to December 1.

student team who attended nasa competition
From left to right: Chester Leoso, Johnell Ladera, Stone Duran (Washington State University student), Matthew Kirimitsu, Alexander Castillo and Johnathan Hollis

The team, called Inferno Tech, consists of UH Mānoa students: team leader Chester Leoso, Matthew Kirimitsu, Johnathan Hollis, Alexander Castillo, Johnell Ladera, Jason Merlander, Louis Jeffers-Fabro and Rio Chappot. They are the first Hawaiʻi group to participate in the federal space agency’s contest, and competed against nine other university teams across the country.

MITTIC is similar to Shark Tank, where, in front of Space Tank Judges (business coaches), students were given the #SpaceToPitch their innovative ideas for new technologies that can benefit their campus, community and the world. MITTIC offers monetary awards for selected teams, with the winning team receiving $20,000 and the second team receiving $10,000. Additionally, students receive better opportunities for MITTIC internships.

Although the team did not receive the winning prizes, they received inspiration and motivation to make changes in their community.

“It was inspiring to see so many people at NASA working hard to make changes in the world. Each change may be small, but make a significant difference for all of mankind,” said Kirimitsu, the team’s manager of public affairs. “That is why NASA needs university students to start making these changes to impact their generation. We want to eventually start working with other accelerators and competitions here in Hawaiʻi to start a movement of entrepreneurship here at UH Mānoa.”

The opportunity to make a change

Firefighting is associated with various cancers, as they work in and around dangerous environments and carcinogens. In addition, fire suits typically contain perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS, or forever chemicals, which are toxic to humans.

“We are researching sustainable materials that can be manufactured to create chemical-free turnout gear for firefighters,” said Kirimitsu. “We hope to take our research to the next level by collaborating with NASA to get feedback, and be an inspiration to other UH Mānoa students who want to start their careers with NASA.”

After interviewing local firefighters, the team concluded that fire personal protective equipment desperately needs to change, and they felt obligated to create a solution that could maintain firefighters’ long-term health.

“Firefighters deserve protection that keeps them safe from fires, as well as later illnesses that can result from being a firefighter. It can [also] help protect our community from toxic chemicals that are released in high-danger environments,” Kirimitsu said. “Fires are not going away anytime soon, and we want to keep our firefighters and our ʻohana safe. NASA is allowing us an opportunity to make a change, and I am excited to meet some of these highly intelligent individuals.”

Read more at the CTAHR website.

students in front of nasa mission control center sign

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