Outlook Magazine - Fall 2021
The prototypes ranged from mechanical solutions to adhesive ones and others with a little bit of everything, Jon said. All needed to be able to withstand extreme cold, snow, saltwater and bears rolling in snow. “Polar bears will walk through anything,” BJ said. “You’ve got an 800- to 1,800-pound animal rolling around on your transmitter.” One idea called the “burr on fur” approach allows the device to latch onto and stick to a bear’s fur with a brush that entangles the fur. Jon worked at 3M for nearly 40 years after graduating from UW-Stout in industrial design. To be able to work on a project with his son has been a great opportunity, he said. “This is just the beginning. If we can make something stick to a polar bear, it can stick to just about anything.”
W-Stout alumnus Jon Kirschhoffer spent his career at 3M, a company known for making things stick, like
Post-It Notes and other adhesives.
When his son, BJ Kirschhoffer, director of field operations for Polar Bears International, contacted his father, an advanced research specialist in the 3M Corporate Research Systems Lab, about needing a better way to track polar bears in the Arctic, 3M became the bearer of necessity and developed prototype tracker tags to help the nonprofit organization conserve the bears across the Arctic. Traditionally, scientists have used satellite collars to follow movements. However, collars can only be placed on adult females, BJ said. Adult males’ necks are as wide as their heads and the collars don’t stay on. Young bears grow too quickly to be safely collared. Transmitters could go on ear tags but require minor surgery and are permanently attached. BJ sent a polar bear pelt to his father at 3M headquarters in St. Paul. “I walked it out into the hallway and unfurled it on the floor and invited people to come see it,” said Jon, who retired from 3M at the end of December 2020. “They came out of the woodwork. It became a catalyst for me to engage other researchers in the project.” 3M has an organization called Tech Forum, a gathering of technology special interest groups where ideas and findings can be exchanged, Jon said. The group created a workshop called Tag a Bear Challenge and met for two days to brainstorm a better way to attach a tracking tag. Tech Forum met with polar bear experts, developed ideas and created crude prototypes. In December, the nearly two-year project moved into the Arctic when testing began on four prototype tags in western Hudson Bay in the far north of Manitoba, Canada.
Devices designed by 3M for Polar Bear International help track the animals for research. The designs must attach to the bear fur and survive extreme weather conditions.
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