Zachary Neubauer
Middle School Third Place Winner - 2010 Survival Design Challenge
EngineerGirl! Survival Design Challenge

If I was to find myself in a situation where I had wandered off from my school group on a class trip, and was now hopelessly lost deep in the forest with an inevitable vale of night falling over, this is what I would do:

My main objective would be trying to attract the attention of anyone who could provide assistance. A fire is an excellent signal in the day, but also provides warmth and light at night. To make a fire, I would first scavenge the local area for wood of varying size from twigs to logs. Using the comb as a replacement shovel, I would dig a small fire pit to prevent any sudden gusts of wind extinguishing the delicate flames. After the fire pit was built, it would be time to begin on the fire itself. Taking a spring from one of the retractable pens and the battery from the cell phone, it would be possible to produce a suitable amount of starter heat by straightening the two ends of the spring so they can reach the positive and negative terminals of the battery. Once electricity is forced thought the metal spring, it will begin to glow red hot. This energy could be used to ignite a material such as dry leaves or moss. Once this small flame had been produced, it would be fairly straightforward to continue to feed the fire with gradually larger kindling till it was of sufficient size.

One condition that could make the potential night-stay far from comfortable and possibly even deadly is the cold. Although the fire should provide heat to the surrounding inhabitant, the transfer of energy would be inefficient, making the night still unpleasantly cold. One possible solution would to better insulate one’s self. This could be easily done wearing the bandana wrapped around your head and crumpling pieces of notebook paper from the spiral notebook. These pieces of paper could be stuffed in your clothing in order to provide more insulation.

Another way to heat yourself at night would be to make a makeshift electric blanket. This could easily be done by placing multiple fist sized boulders into your fire. While you leave the rocks to heat, you would again begin crumpling pieces of notebook paper, this time placing them in your emptied backpack. Using a piece of fire wood, you could scoop the rocks from the fire into the backpack. The paper would provide additional insulation, as well as create a barrier, preventing uncomfortable amounts of heat from reaching your body as you slept with the backpack placed on your chest. Rocks tend to release heat more slowly, and have a high heat capacity. This means heat would slowly be distributed directly to your body through a large portion of the night.

Rescue in the night may be unlikely. Consequently, the next day would be dedicated to making my location even more noticeable to any form of assistants. Before I set out, I would make sure that my fire was sufficiently fed, and then proceed exploring around my camp area, chewing gum as I went. I would be chewing the gum, however, for more than its flavor and just the enjoyment of mindlessly chewing. Using the gum’s sticky properties, I would use it as makeshift glue, sticking sections of notebook paper revealing my location on trees surrounding my camp.

Although smoke would provide a very good signal for a rescue party, I could use the two rubber bands, and the mirror as a means of attracting additional attention. To build my apparatus, I would begin by using the file to etch into the center of the mirror, deep enough so it could be easily broken in half by hand. The two rubber bands would then be attached to opposite sides of the mirrors. One rubber band would be attached to a tree branch, and the other would be tied to the empty water bottle, which would contain a small amount of gravel or stream water, acting as counter weight. If this device was hung in a tree, the mildest breeze would cause it to rotate, making a flash of light to a rescue party up to miles away.

Hopefully, my efforts would lead to a swift rescue within a few hours, and I would be safely heading back to society. I would like to thank you for your consideration of my essay, and your time.


*This essay was written by a student as part of an annual contest to promote engineering concepts. It is not the work of an engineer or of an outdoor survivalist. The ideas included represent creativity and ingenuity; however, facts may not be accurate and the actions described may not be the most appropriate in an actual survival situation. Please see the contest announcement for more information.