November 2013 - Parks & Recreation - 24

People for Parks
Gone In a Flash

An Idaho high school student uses laser technology to remove graffiti from city parkland
By Danielle Taylor

W

hen graffiti appears in parks, on bridges or in other public spaces,
those who see it often roll their eyes and mutter, " Teenagers. " But
in Idaho Falls, Idaho, one teenager is doing the exact opposite of
defacing public property. With the help of his mentor, 18-year-old Patrick McIlwain has used lasers to remove graffiti along the city's greenbelt.
McIlwain, a senior at Bonneville
High School in Idaho Falls, wanted to
incorporate laser technology into his
senior project, which is a requirement
at his high school for graduation. His
father works at the Idaho National
Laboratory (INL) and mentioned this
to colleague Bob Fox, an INL chemist who has worked with lasers on a
variety of applications. Fox and McIlwain began collaborating on plans for

the project and soon contacted Greg
Weitzel, director of the Idaho Falls
Department of Parks and Recreation,
who supported the innovative solution to his parks' nagging problem.
" I think it's a great way of trying
to remove graffiti, which is definitely
an issue we have, " Weitzel says. " We
usually paint over it, but you can never get that paint to match. To have a
laser come in and remove it is just an

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22

Parks & Recreation

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awesome idea. I'm interested in using this going forward. "
In late September, Fox and McIlwain
borrowed a 100-watt laser from Adapt
Laser Systems, and after discussing the
scientific principles involved, they went
to work on the greenbelt, which runs
for six miles along the Snake River in
downtown Idaho Falls. To protect bikers and joggers from the laser's beam,
they erected reflective barriers before
setting up the machine. Fox guided
McIlwain through the process, which
quickly stripped the paint from a variety of surfaces that had been vandalized along the greenbelt.The job required a certain amount of finesse, and
Fox talked McIlwain through properly
positioning the machinery to achieve
the appropriate amount of power without causing additional damage to the
park's property.
As the laser hits the graffitied surfaces, photons vaporize the paint.
Laser technology at different wattage
levels can be used to strip paint off of
ships, repair defaced monuments or
restore damaged artwork.
McIlwain, who hopes to attend
Montana State University for a degree in electrical and mechanical
engineering, was understandably excited about using the laser, although
he still has several more months of
work on his full graduation project.
But based on the positive response he
has gotten from the city, his future is
looking pretty bright.
Danielle Taylor is the Senior Editor of Parks
& Recreation Magazine (dtaylor@nrpa.org).



November 2013 - Parks & Recreation

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of November 2013 - Parks & Recreation

November 2013 - Parks & Recreation - 1
November 2013 - Parks & Recreation - 2
November 2013 - Parks & Recreation - 3
November 2013 - Parks & Recreation - 4
November 2013 - Parks & Recreation - 5
November 2013 - Parks & Recreation - 6
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