Is Dor Hananel the Next Tony Stark?

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Photo By: Patrick Andrews

Dor Hananel and Sophie Salomon work on the design of their team's robot.

Patrick Andrews, Editor-in-Chief

Walking next to him, you would have thought that Dor Hananel was a regular person. Looking at him, you would immediately notice his well-worn blue jeans, New Balance tennis shoes, a black, green, or dark blue zip-up hoodie with an ordinary t-shirt underneath. He walks through the halls of school with his backpack strapped snuggly to him and a black netbook computer in his left hand.

All seems normal … until he speaks.

His Hebrew accent, developed throughout his childhood in Israel, can fill a room as he talks about a topic in class or as he eats his lunch with his close friends in the hall.

True, his voice sounds like no other at Western Albemarle, but Hebrew is not the only language that Hananel can speak. Besides Hebrew, Hananel is also fluent in a far more common language among his peers. That’s the language of computer programing.

With the help of a private tutor back in Israel when he was 11, Hananel learned a programming language called “VisualBasic,” and though he barely remembers what he learned, those tutoring sessions were crucial to his education in computer science.

“[The tutor] really taught me the grammar of programming because coding is just another language. You need to know how to think like a computer and then you need to know the vocab,” Hananel said. And he’s putting his skills to the test right now.

From a young age, Hananel has had a passion for creating gadgets and other machines that others would only dream of. Whether he was designing prank toys and gag gifts or flying cars with helicopter blade wheels, he has always had a passion for engineering.

“When I was in sixth grade, I kind of started inventing,” Hananel said, laughing at the word “inventing” because he noted that none of his inventions would have actually worked. “Not real inventing simply because I didn’t have the knowledge of physics.”

However, during his freshman year in 2011, after moving to Crozet that summer, Hananel joined the newly founded robotics team at WAHS. He instantly fell in love with his team, the Loose Screws, and devoted hours on end to learning new programming languages. For two hours every Tuesday and Thursday, Hananel would spend time with his teammates, planning out different designs for their robot and actually constructing and programming it to accomplish certain tasks.

“Just seeing the robot actually doing what it should do is amazing. Like after weeks of work it all works out. It’s great,” Hananel said. But that’s not the only reason Hananel has such a reverent love for robotics. He has also fallen in love with his eclectic group of teammates. Coming from a different country and feeling the pain of isolation from an entire student body took its toll on Hananel during his freshman year.

“There were some times two years ago when I first moved here that I would have this wave of realizing how complete isolation there is,” Hananel said. However, robotics changed that for him as he discovered a group of people who accepted him even though he was clearly different. Since then, he has found many great friends through robotics and an interest in technology.

Robotics is just one step in Hananel’s goal to becoming an engineer. “After college, there is what I’m hoping to do, and what I want to do. I’m hoping to do something in engineering, probably computer science,” Hananel said. He has also expressed an interest in the field of aerospace physics, a field that might allow him to actually construct the flying car that has been in planning for at least six years. Whatever field of engineering Hananel decides to explore, he has already established a pretty firm foundation for his mechanical and computer education through robotics and programming.

And Hananel’s story in engineering doesn’t end there. As he discovered a few years ago, he has a passion for a process called 3D printing. Using a 3D printer, people are able to construct three-dimensional solid objects from digital models by layering extremely thin layers of plastic to form different shapes, something that fascinated a young Hananel.

“I was obsessed with 3D printing for a long time. I’m talking about five, seven years. Like since the technology started popping out more, I was just all into it. I kept researching all that I could,” Hananel said. However, 3D printers and the plastic material needed to construct objects were not affordable to the average person until about three years ago, though the technology has been out since the eighties.

“When the prices finally dropped to something that could be affordable, my dad also got really excited because he’s really into those types of new technologies. He helped me and with the money I saved, we bought one,” Hananel said.

Since then, Hananel has used the printer to create a variety of objects. “The very first thing I 3D printed was a spider, and I made it as a scary object,” Hananel said. He also printed off a moustache to put on the robot for the robotics competition last year to lighten the mood of the competition.

With Hananel’s robotics team qualifying for states two years in a row, it’s reasonable to say that he must be doing something right in his journey to becoming an engineer. The world is waiting to see what Hananel will come up with. Will he create a flying car? A space shuttle? Maybe he’ll follow in the steps of his favorite superhero, Iron Man (aka Tony Stark), and be a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” with an advanced suit of armor, just like Tony Stark. We’ll just have to wait and see.