Park City senior honored in national contest for eco-friendly utensil
While sitting in a cafeteria wedged between people using plastic forks and knives, Nick Markels could not help but think about all the plastic going into the garbage at the end of the lunch hour. It was then that he thought of an invention that could help reduce waste.
Markels, a senior at Park City High School, created a spork and knife combination made of biodegradable materials. He called it the Sporknife. He submitted his design and marketing plan to the CAPS Student Innovation Contest, a national competition for young entrepreneurs, and was one of two students in the country selected for the Edison Award. The competition was sponsored by the Center for Advanced Professional Studies and Edison Universe, and it was open to students in CAPS programs around the U.S.
Markels said what makes the Sporknife unique is its manufacturing process. He designed a way for factories to make sporks and knives that are attached until they get into the consumer’s hands. Then, the consumer can easily separate it two distinct utensils.
“Just like chopsticks,” Markels said.
He said his idea is eco-friendly because the Sporknife would be made out of a corn-based biodegradable material. Plus, the manufacturing process of making a two-in-one spork and knife would cut material waste, he said.
Markels initially created the product as an assignment in one of his engineering classes. He said after hearing about plastics polluting the ocean and the pushback against disposable straws and eating utensils, he wanted to find a new solution.
Biodegradable utensils exist, but many businesses don’t purchase them because they are expensive, he said.
By tampering with the production process, he came up with a solution to cut costs and make biodegradable utensils more affordable.
“I thought what if you have one machine, instead of running three different assembly lines,” he said.
He came up with designs, printed them using the school’s 3-D printers and gave the new utensils to his classmates to test out and provide feedback. Then, he went back to the drawing board to improve them. He went through four separate design iterations.
Chris Humbert, who was teaching the class Markels was in at the time, said one of Markels’ top qualities is his dedication to constantly making his work better. He said Markels is a “focused, respectful and responsible student.”
Humbert taught Markels for the past few years and said he has enjoyed watching Markels expand his knowledge and his skills.
“He is consistently top-notch,” he said. “He really does his best, not just in the design of the object but also the writing and the presentation.”
Humbert said he was happy to see Markels be rewarded for his efforts.
Markels said the engineering and PCCAPS classes he took helped him learn about proper design and self-management, and his business classes taught him how to create a marketing plan for his product. Even his film class, he said, proved valuable by teaching him how to make an animation explaining his product.
“All the CTE classes I took at Park City, they helped me eventually create this,” he said.
Markels realized his project had potential as the deadline approached for the Lassonde Institute’s Utah High School Entrepreneur Challenge. He prepared the materials for the statewide competition and finished in the top 20.
Humbert then told him about the Edison Awards, and Markels entered. He said he was not expecting to make it far in the contest. He was shocked when he came to school one day and his peers were congratulating him. He checked his email and saw the message naming him a winner of the Edison Awards.
Markels said he is happy about the end result because he has had more opportunities to share his idea with the public. He hopes to continue working on the product this summer and as he attends the University of Portland in the fall.
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The Park City Board of Education is on track to place a bond on the ballot this fall to improve district facilities. The top priorities would be to put ninth grade in the high school, eighth grade in the middle school and to augment preschool offerings by expanding elementary schools.