Congratulations to the Winners of the 2018–2019 Air & Climate Challenge!
Team: Chloe Feather, Logan Coller, Zach Jerusal, Allyson Pitsch, Tanis Brummel, Serenity Metzger, Reyenan Sharp, Kalynn Deppe, Paul Kimball
Location: Byron Center, MI
Respiratory illness, stress to the heart and lungs, and damage to cells in the respiratory system are all effects of poor air quality due to pollutants like carbon dioxide. After hearing this information, the Carbon Crusaders, guided by teacher advisors Justin Vande Pol and Ben Lacy, wanted to scale down greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the amount of CO their school gives off every year. After consulting with the head of facilities, they found that the school emits 4,563.8 pounds of CO2 per day. They learned that the carbon dioxide released by the school cafeteria’s plastic utensils equates to around 32 pounds daily. To combat the current emissions, the team reduced plastic usage by creating and using biodegradable silverware. In just one day of using the new cutlery, the team reduced 32 pounds of CO2 and raised awareness about the need to recycle. The team also held an eco-week to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions over the week. The project culminated in a fundraiser; the money was used to buy fruit trees to give to communities in Africa. The fruit trees that were purchased will be reducing 80 pounds of carbon dioxide per tree per year in that community.
Team: Lorelei Barrett, Jayden Colon, Jennifer Hoffer, Lianna Liranzo, Juver Nuesi, Briana Zapet
Location: Jersey City, NJ
This enterprising team of 8th graders aimed to improve the earth by reducing the amount of CO2 levels in the atmosphere as well as reducing air pollution. (The team’s name stands for Carbon Dioxide and Air Pollution Terminators.) After doing research, the students discovered that CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased 50% since the industrial revolution, but that plants can absorb the excess. They also noticed a lack of trees in their urban neighborhood, and decided that would be the environmental issue they’d address. The students, along with advisors Christopher Brown and Joel Naatus, invented a simple air-filtering prototype that can be used to reduce CO2 levels and improve air quality. Simultaneously, the group researched the best trees for their city and learned how to grow them and assist in planting them by collecting samples of a variety of shrubs and trees and growing them aquaponically. They made cuttings or planted seeds from 137 plants to have available for city planting in the spring and also discovered the best plant for their prototype technology. They established a partnership with the Jersey City Parks Coalition and increased community awareness about the dangers of air pollution and increased levels of CO2 by creating a social media platform that included a website, podcast, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube accounts. In addition, they developed lesson plans, teaching more than 100 students about the project and the dangers of CO2 in their community and the world.
Team: Grace Taylor, Nevyn Brown, Zack Allred, Julia Bennett, Eleanor Delaney, Emily Berkson
Location: Holladay, UT
When plastic bottles decompose, they take about 450 years to do so, releasing chemicals into the air. In addition, plastic cannot be instantaneously broken down unless burned, and this puts carbon dioxide and other harmful toxins in the atmosphere. The Fanplastics, led by team advisor JoAnne Brown, chose to address the negative effects of air and plastic pollution; to help, the team set out to tie recycling to renewable energy. They built a wind turbine prototype out of plastic water bottles, since this would be a good way to reuse them and reduce the amount of materials in landfills as well as reduce pollution. In the course of their research, the team discovered that charging cell phones alone contributes a significant quantity of greenhouse gas emissions: 6.4 million tons. The students first worked with a professor from Salt Lake Community College to learn how to use a mapping program, ArcGIS, to figure out how much plastic was on the school campus. After collecting the bottles, they kept refining their wind turbine prototype until it produced enough energy to charge an iPhone! They spread the word about their work by putting it on social media, including Twitter and Facebook, and shared the project results on Instagram with more than 2,500 followers. The team was featured on the school’s morning announcements; they also put up posters and sent out a press release to local news stations.
Food Miles Matter
Team: Camila Pallidino, Isabela Wiley, Maddie Sage, Ryan Folic, Nate Harmelin, Grant Fawcett, Hayden Simmons
Location: Coconut Creek, FL
Guided by teacher advisor Hope Kennedy, this group chose to tackle the problem of global warming. Their research showed that the exhaust released from cars and trucks adds to global warming, because it produces greenhouse gases, which are then trapped in our atmosphere. The students’ solution: reducing the food miles their school cafeteria adds to the world from its trucked-in food supplies. They grew food in their garden to replace the fresh produce that officials order and have shipped in. The team worked with cafeteria staff to grow and donate food that would be the most useful. To achieve this goal, the group studied regular gardening, hydroponic gardening, and aeroponic vertical tower gardening; planted seedlings in rockwool; planted aeroponic vertical towers; and fertilized and cared for the plants. They also organized a school awareness campaign, making table signs for cafeteria dining areas and videos to explain the project, and tweeted their progress. Results: The kids harvested and donated produce to the cafeteria; developed a collaboration with cafeteria buyers; made staff and the entire middle school aware of food miles; and enlisted help from 100 classmates. In addition, the group’s basil replaced basil harvested and shipped from Los Ángeles, 2,691 miles from the school. They calculated that with that crop alone, they saved 807 food miles!
Las Succulentas Esteticas
Team: Aiden Gruner, Belle Pobsuk, Suebin Hur, Kaylee Tsai, Andre Aragones, Ella Jung, Amanda Luong, Leher Bararia
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Fossil fuel consumption accounts for nearly 80% of energy production. The team learned that the unfortunate byproduct of that consumption is the release of greenhouse gases, which have increased global temperatures and contributed to earth’s destruction. Solar panels are a clean method of producing energy, but are inefficient. By using heliostats, however, the group found they could increase the output of solar panels via focusing the sun’s rays and decrease the use of fossil fuels in the community. With the help of advisor Robin Hill, they devised a miniature model of a solar panel equipped with a heliostat and a magnifying glass. They then measured the amount of electricity produced for a control experiment (one without a magnifying glass) and for a variable experiment (one with a magnifying glass). The students discovered that each heliostat mirror would produce about 2,260 watts a day, enough to light about 38 light bulbs, and therefore could be used in a larger capacity to boost solar panels’ performance. Las Succulentas Esteticas planned and hosted an afterschool event to spread solar awareness, featuring merchandise, stickers, and posters with the facts, as well as creating a website and Instagram account to help people understand the importance of their project.
Team: Nour Aziz, Liliana Ordonez, Romayssae Saidi, Molly Brown, Michael Maglori, Asana Pollard, Daphne Tovar, Gideon Pascual
Location: Jersey City, NJ
After researching fossil fuels and their impact, the team felt strongly about shifting Americans’ focus to solar power—a clean, renewable energy from the sun that doesn’t pollute the environment and is always available. Plus, putting solar panels on the roof can reduce the greenhouse effect and decrease reliance on fossil fuels. However, they are often inefficient. Advisors Christopher Brown & Joel Naatus aided the Solar Squad on its mission to make solar panels more effective. They learned that solar panels get covered with dirt, dust, bird droppings, and pollen, and in the winter, with heavy snow, hence reducing their efficiency and the electricity produced. Also, it can be expensive and time-consuming to clean them. To help, the students developed a low-cost technology to melt the snow and naturally clean the debris, with an unused phone, mirrors, aluminum foil, and light bulbs, creating a parabolic mirror system. They experimented with an ice-covered solar panel, which was 12° F before it was heated by their parabolic mirror. The mirror melted the ice, and the temperature increased to 72° F, restoring the panel’s functionality. The team got the word out about their project with brochures, a website, social media accounts, and a YouTube channel, and also taught a fifth grade class about how to increase solar power.
Turn on the Night!
Team: Kevin Strait, Kaileigh Ripley, Emma Washburn, Eli DeBlake, Caelan Vining, Torin Cooksey, Henry Harman
Location: White Cloud, MI
The group researched light pollution, and learned that Americans spend more than $2.2 billion for lights at night. They were determined to create a way to stop using so much electricity and ultimately fossil fuels, which can permanently damage the atmosphere. The group decided that informing citizens about reducing electricity use would help decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. With guidance from teacher advisor Sherry Claflin, they created a fact sheet about U.S. electricity use, pointing out that people leave lights on when they don’t need them, especially at night. The students also invited an officer from the White Cloud Police Department to come in and speak about lighting at night in their city, which they determined was not light-pollution friendly. In addition, they also talked to a local astronomy group, the Newaygo County Dark Sky Astronomers to get more information. With the help of the White Cloud City Council and the Newaygo County Dark Sky Astronomers’ Facebook page, the team organized a “Turn on the Night” event in November. The group also publicized their plan in local newspapers and through daily school announcements. Their results: Out of 467 homes in the city of White Cloud, only 31 had their yard lights on the night of November 16; the rest of the neighborhood had turned off their outside porch and yard lights for the event. The students plan to continue their efforts to lower light pollution in their town.
WMHS Recycling Club
Team: Kierra Andrews-Bateman, Brookelynn Andrews, Libby Hagan, Hilde Heifort, EmmaLee Woodard
Location: Williston, FL
WMHS Recycling Club noticed that in their city (population 2,710), quite a few businesses use plastic bags. The city also tends to have a lot of bonfires in which plastic bags are used as kindling. Team members were alarmed to learn that incinerated plastic releases dangerous air pollutants, such as dioxins, furans, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls into the atmosphere, which in turn have a dangerous effect on animals, human life, and vegetation. These facts largely affect Williston—a major agricultural municipality. Plastic pollution causes soil to be less fertile, and in a farming town like Williston, fertile soil is important. The club decided, with teacher advisor Jennifer Handley, to try to eliminate plastic bags by offering reusable canvas bags to the community. In addition, the students designed reusable plastic bags and found a company willing to make the bags inexpensively. They sold the bags at their school, and gave the money they raised to a local charity. They also asked local grocers to sell customers a reusable bag, rather than give out a disposable one. To educate their town on why plastic is dangerous and promote the bags, the students put up advertisements in classrooms, wrote social media posts, aired facts on their school news system, and spoke to local organizations. They were happy to report that around Williston, plastic use has been greatly reduced, and their school and community has begun to be more cautious of what products and materials they use. The school also started a paper and plastic recycling program.
Team: Anna McLaughlin, Grace Roberts, Peter Tarpinian, Rafer Friedman, Thomson Estabrook, Carter Williams, Ryan Harris
Location: Pennington, NJ
Lighting facts: Incandescent bulbs only last 1,200 hours and consume 60 watts, while LEDs last 20,000 hours and use 13 to 15 watts. One LED bulb minimizes greenhouse gas emissions by almost half a ton. If by 2030, three out of four light bulbs are using LED technology, this will reduce carbon emissions by 1,800 million metric tons and could cut the demand for electricity by one-third. Armed with this knowledge, Absolute Zero chose to educate people on the negative environmental impact of incandescent and CFL bulbs and convince their community to start using LEDs in their homes and at school. With teacher advisor Dr. Margo Andrews, the team found data on their school’s energy usage, then worked with maintenance directors to calculate how much was being used, needed to be saved, and could be reduced in the future. The school had already switched all outside lighting to LEDs, so their goal was to push the school to make a complete switch. The students distributed a survey, which gave the team quantifiable and graphable data concerning how much their fellow students really knew about light bulbs, LEDs, what they used in their homes, and how much the school and individual families could save. They then distributed a fact sheet with comparison data to educate them further: By switching entirely to LEDs, the Pennington School’s electric bill would drop to approximately $8,333 per month, saving about $31,667 per month. Afterward, their fellow students said they had absorbed the information and would make an effort to change bulbs at home. Though the school hasn’t made a complete switch yet, the team learned that sometimes it’s more impactful to educate your community and inspire them to make changes in their lives and in their communities.
Team: Shreeja Guntireddy, Paul Kim, Shaye Holladay McCarthy, Anna Feddersen, Shelia Mgrtichian, Emily Woods, Serli Khanbabaei
Location: La Crescenta, CA
After researching air pollution with teacher advisor Dominique Evans-Bye, the Air Allies strove to collect, map, and analyze air quality data in their area, and communicate their findings to educate their community. The team used air quality monitors to record VOCs and carbon monoxide at locations of interest around Glendale, CA. Then the team took the data points and downloaded them onto an ArcGIS map to learn where most of the pollution is coming from. The students also talked with Daniel Brotman, of the Glendale Environmental Coalition, who discussed some steps the team could take in order to make more of an impact. The group presented their data to the Glendale City Council in December and offered solutions for what can be done about the community’s air quality issues. In addition, the Air Allies were invited to present the project to their school’s biotechnology and science research students to encourage their participation. They also created a website, developed a lesson plan on air quality posted to “Share my Lesson,” and designed a story map of their project, then continued to spread the news about air pollution, distributing pamphlets and flyers to try to influence city air-quality policy. The project didn’t stop in December: They’re now working on a mini boat they plan to send first to Hawaii, then on to Japan to record air quality, air temperature, and water temperature. For this component of the project, they partnered with Verdugo Woodlands Elementary School’s Japanese Academy to translate messages to students overseas about the dangers of air pollution and how they can join their air-quality monitoring project.
Team: Amanda Gawlowicz, Andrew Gelderman, Christian Pegouske, Christian Lam, Elise Collins, Maggie Khan
Location: Hoover, AL
Industrial air pollution is a huge problem, especially 2.5 and 10 μm fine particles, which have been known to cause a multitude of health problems affecting the entire human body. After learning these facts, the Bio Bucs set out to try to raise more awareness about particle pollution by partnering with GASP, a clean air and healthy community advocacy group. The team used GASP’s monitors to collect pollution data, and also connected with teacher advisor Janet Ort’s Southern Research (SR) STEM Fellowship to help them see how industrial sources and heavy traffic routes affect air pollution. They contacted the head of SR’s STEM Lab to host a workshop to train 41 AP Environmental Science students from their school to measure air quality. The students then field-tested with handheld environmental sensors, and measured and compared water pH, temperature, moisture level, and UV strength between the greenspace at SR and surrounding urban areas. The measurements demonstrated a correlation between greenspaces and the resulting lowered temperatures, increased moisture level, and lowered UV strength. Furthermore, the lowered pH in the greenspace indicated stronger acid rain from particle deposition. Because their data collection showed huge environmental problems downtown, the group plans to continue their work and conduct more research into the types of harmful particles that exist in the city’s atmosphere in order to assess the full danger of particle pollution in other Birmingham inner-city locations.
FFIG (Fossil Fuel Issue Group)
Team: Oz Duncan, Oscar Wolfe, Abigail Schoeffler, Gia Scaletti, Ava MacKinnon, Alice Fredman, Waverly Smith, Max Hutkin
Location: Highland Park, NJ
FFIG focused on fossil fuel usage and its effects on the environment, as well as people’s lack of perception of this problem. The FFIG felt strongly that the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) in particular is an organization that needs to be publicized more because of its work in this area. The NRDC strongly promotes using more renewable resources and limiting the amount of pollution created by fossil fuels. The group learned that the NRDC was the first organization to press the U.S. government to nationally limit pollution from power plants, and immediately contacted their principal to set up a fundraiser that would benefit NRDC and also raise awareness. With guidance from teacher advisor Mei Ping Yang, they gave presentations on the subject and made pamphlets to publicize their fundraiser and the organization. The money they raised was donated to the NRDC to help reduce fossil fuel usage. In addition, the team wrote a letter to their state governor, Phil Murphy, asking him to recognize the organization and to address the pressing pollution issues the NRDC is working on.
Maize High School Climate Club
Team: Isaac Stanton, Jacob Hanna, Ryan Fullerton, Carlos Cross, Josh McLaughlin, Aidan Leon, Daniel Hammett
Location: Maize, KS
Cyanobacteria in HABs produce microcystins and hepatotoxins, which are liver toxins that are often present in drinking water. Cyanobacteria thrive in warm waters; as global temperatures rise, so too does global water temperatures. Cyanobacteria not only grow more rapidly in warm water from increased temperatures, but also warmer waters make it more difficult for water to mix, meaning the surface remains much warmer than the rest of the body of water—and cyanobacteria grow more successfully on the surface. With teacher advisor Amy Hammett’s direction, the group used an R-programming computational model and Big Data from USGS to assess the water in the local Cheney Reservoir. They saw that the projected 1–2 ℃ increase in average global temperature, along with more agricultural runoff and sedimentation in surface water systems, is directly correlated to increases in HABs. All drinking water in their area comes from Cheney Reservoir, and because of their research, it is now known to have HABs. The Climate Club then collaborated with researchers at the Kansas Biological Survey (KBS) at the University of Kansas, the Kansas Water Office (KWO), and the University of Missouri ROSS project. The team attended the Kansas Governor’s Water Conference to work with research scientists and government officials in November. While there, eight team members were trained to become Kansas Water Advocates to educate the community about HABs. They developed YouTube videos of all of their samplings, as well as ArcGIS maps of HABs in Cheney Reservoir, which were shared and covered by news media outlets. The team also successfully alerted Senator Jerry Moran, who called in the acting head of the EPA to a Kansas City water testing lab when he learned of their project. In addition, the students aggregated data for the Kansas Biological Survey, which advises the Kansas legislature on actions that need to be taken to ensure safe surface water quality.
Team: Allison Flaherty, Jack Begley, Ander De Onaindia, Tenzin Nangsal, Mattie Pape, Dannica Sims
Location: Lafayette, CO
In 2016–2017, honey bee colonies experienced a 33% loss. In 2017, the monarch butterfly population decreased by 41 million compared to the previous year. These pollinators are a key part of a healthy ecosystem. With so many pollinators on the decline, the environment suffers. Via educational presentations that they developed, Pollination Domination addressed climate change by helping increase the bee, butterfly, and other pollinator populations, which would ensure healthier plants to help regulate earth’s ever-rising temperatures. Along with their teacher Kristie Letter, the team worked with the Honey Bee Conservancy, Bee and Butterfly Fund, The Xerces Society Pollinator Conservation, University of Minnesota Monarch Lab, Butterfly Pavilion, Town of Superior, and Monarch Joint Venture. They created a website, YouTube video, Instagram account, and an informational video game with a bee that tries to avoid pesticides. They also made a video in which they dressed up as bees and some dressed up as pesticides to explain one reason why the bee population is dropping. They raised awareness at their school by putting up posters that provided links to their website and other social media, and by talking about the team’s efforts with the student body. In addition, the group got the word out locally, distributing business cards (with a link to their website) and Pollination Domination T-shirts at local hospitals in the community.
Team S.U.N. Storing Underground Nutrients
Team: Sydney King, Varun Shenoy, Joseph Kang, Vanessa Lawrie, Luis Schneegans
Location: Creve Coeur, MO
This group tackled the problem of how fertilizer production negatively impacts climate. When fertilizer is mass-produced to meet agricultural needs, massive amounts of fossil fuels are burned, releasing harmful gases into the atmosphere. The team sought to find a suitable fertilizer alternative to mitigate the negative effects and one that would be minimally needed to effectively provide nutrients for plants. Their proposed solution: Show how the use of biochar—charcoal produced from burnt and decaying plant matter—can be stored in soil as both a source of nutrients and a way to prevent releasing toxins, such as nitrogen, that would have otherwise harmed the environment. Their research also showed that biochar could potentially be used as an alternative heat and fuel source when manufactured correctly, reducing CO2 emissions—another good reason to use it instead of traditional fertilizer. In their soil samples, S.U.N. added in sawdust, which isn’t ecologically friendly, but can be put to good use as fertilizer. Multiple tests proved their hypothesis; the soil, with the addition of the biochar-sawdust mixture, retained twice as much water, which in turn helped it retain more of the nutrients. This indicated that a mix of biochar, soil, and sawdust would help plants to absorb nutrients and grow in a faster, eco-friendly way.
Team: Madison Abbott, Riley Burton, Cynthia Callaway, Jacob Mitchell, Drew Schilling, Cameron Snyder
Location: Monticello, GA
Unhealthy trees can cause detrimental effects leading to natural disasters such as wildfires, disease epidemics, and insect outbreaks. The Southern Pine Beetle (SPB) wreaks havoc on GA forests, specifically loblolly pines; the SPB can damage an approximate 625,000 acres of forest in an epidemic year. The Piedmont region of GA is especially susceptible to SPB outbreaks due to its high concentration of loblolly pine monoculture. Many Jasper County residents are unintentional tree farmers, who are usually unaware of how to maintain a healthy stand of trees on their properties. This puts GA forestry, especially Jasper County, at high risk of outbreaks, which can lead to forest devastation and reduced air quality. The team networked with the forestry pros at the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge (PWR) to learn how to maintain healthy stands, be diagnostic, and to protect these natural air filters. Led by teacher Elizabeth Proctor, they designed and implemented a survey to better understand the community and assess needs. The students used social media to create outreach platforms, and built a website as a reference and guide to inform the public. They hosted multiple events and met with more than 100 people, and made presentations to the local Civic Club and media center, communicating their message about maintaining tree health and avoiding an epidemic. The group also spoke at a local educator meeting with educators from three counties, raising awareness in the greater community.
Congratulations to the Winners of the 2018–2019 Land & Water Challenge!
Team: David Barzideh, Brendan Shek, Chloe Zhang, Elaine Zhang, Andrew Zhao, Bryan Zhao, Patrick Zhao, Leon Zhou, and Kevin Zhu.
Location: Jericho, NY
Guided by teacher advisor Serena McCalla and mentors Susan Wu and Lisa Xiao, the SmartValve Grey2Green team tackled the problem of excessive water use and how it harms the environment. Their solution: implementing greywater recycling and raising awareness about the importance of water conservation locally and globally with the creation of the SmartValve Grey2Green system. After studying filters and consulting with industry experts, they created a three-way valve, which is capable of directing blackwater (dirty water) and greywater (reusable water) when connected to Smart Home appliances and plumbing systems within the household, such as laundry machines, dishwashers, sinks, and showers. They built three prototypes, with the third-generation model controlled by an EV3 chip, which can be voice-activated. The team has filed a provisional patent for the device, and also created a website, started an Instagram and email campaign, participated in a community service coastal cleanup project, and presented their research and models at a STEAM Exchange with Taiwanese Students, Pall Corporation, Hofstra University’s Robotics and Research event, among others.
Team: Lidieth Artica, Michaela Garrett, Annel Herrera, Karla Ronquillo, Sajoud Saleh
Location: Jersey City, NJ
The Snail Samurais and teacher advisors Robert O’Donnell and Joel Naatus took on the invasive species the Chinese Mystery Snail. The tiny animals, through their overpopulation, disrupt the aquatic ecosystem, competing with native species for habitat, space, and food. In addition, they clog up water intake pipes, and often carry parasitic worms that kill waterfowl and other animals. After finding them in their local reservoir, the team set out to try to regulate the snail population and find ways to use them in a positive way. After conducting experiments, they designed a reproduction study, a snail filter for improving water quality, and a snail native plant and algae consumption project. They also got the word out about adopting the snails as pets or using them as a food source. The Samurais spread their message via social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and a website. The group also organized presentations for younger students so they could learn about the hazards and potential of these creatures, too.
Team: Destiny Alger, Rela Bruce, Kailan Dutton, Alexandra Haggard, and Eliot Stevens
Location: Lubbock, TX
To enable visitors to explore caverns and see their beauty, many are illuminated by artificial light, causing algae to grow on fragile formations and in pristine pools inside. However, algae depletes oxygen and destroys the balance of microbial communities that have existed in caves for millions of years, ruining productive groundwater and ecosystems crucial to these communities’ existence. After visiting Carlsbad Caverns and learning about the algae issue, the Cave Rescuers, led by teacher advisor Laura Wilbanks, conducted research, interviewed cave specialists and optic physicists from Texas Tech University, and experimented with algal growth under various light scenarios to determine limiting factors. They conducted a public outreach campaign via flyers, social media outlets, and a website to publicize volunteer opportunities for algae cleanup. They also partnered with national cave organizations to change lighting systems in U.S. showcase caverns and reached more than 750,000 people with their cave protection message. The group was featured in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal as an innovative scientific research team and devised a hands-on and inquiry-driven children’s guide to protecting cave ecosystems.
Team: Braden Altman, Samuel Blackwell, Wesley Conner, Kim-Linh Vo, Rylan Bevis, Mallory Kallan, Alexandra Wizda, Nadia Khalil
Location: Lakeland, FL
The beloved manatee, known as the gentle giant of marine creatures, has declined greatly in population and at faster rates due to red tide, algae blooms, and speedboat engines. The “sea cows” play a large role in controlling marine plant growth in their habitat and need to be protected. The Mana-team, along with their advisor Lesa Bland, set out to rescue manatees in Florida and spread awareness of its path to becoming endangered and extinct. They contacted manatee sanctuaries to get more information and find out how they could help protect manatees, and enlightened their community as well as other schools to get more students involved. The team also presented their research at several community activities, such as Winston STEM night and the Lakes Festival—an event to raise awareness of all marine life problems around Polk County; the students were written up in the Lakeland Ledger. Profiles on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and a website also helped their cause. In their hydroponic garden, the group planted lettuce to harvest and donate to Sea World’s Manatee Rehabilitation & Rescue Facility.
Team: Adalyn Britton, Mallory Britton, Anela Hyrns, Griffin Lownds, Rachel Springer, Liam Szegda
Location: Whitehall, MI
Led by advisor Susan Tate, Plastic PURGE (People United to Reduce Garbage Everywhere) discovered that helium balloons rise in the atmosphere until cold temperatures make them break into tiny pieces that pose several dangers to wildlife and humans: entanglement, ingestion, and toxins that move up the food chain (we eat fish who have absorbed toxins from balloon fragments). To inform citizens about this issue, the team created a community beach cleanup bingo game and also volunteered as presenters at the Muskegon Country 3rd Grade Water Festival to teach younger kids about this problem, using examples like “Sea Turtle Hurdles.” They also constructed Land Use Impact on Stormwater Runoff models showing how runoff can carry balloon litter from the land into rivers and oceans; gave a presentation to Whitehall City Council and convinced members to draft an ordinance to ban helium balloon releases; and accomplished more education and outreach via various forms of social media and a display case at school. The news about their work got out even faster after a story about the team made the local paper, the White Lake Beacon.
Team: Shayda Alsalihi, James Cook, Violet Ferguson, Marianne Gebb, Nora Mack, Sofia Wu, Jayden Young
Location: Lexington, KY
When the group saw the stats on how many plastic bags end up in landfills (every minute, one million are used and discarded after 15 minutes, according to Plastic Oceans), they knew they had to do something about it. After seeing a video on how to make a reusable bag out of plastic bags, the team found their solution. Supported by teacher advisor Ashlie Arkwright, the Bagstreet Boys collected 1,325 plastic bag donations from their school and community to turn into reusable bags to sell. Those that didn’t get upcycled got recycled to Bluegrass Greensource, a local environmental organization. They also used interactive polls and surveys to engage and educate students at school on the impact disposable plastic bags have on the environment and why it’s important to avoid throwing them away. An Instagram page and website expanded their outreach; pre- and post-surveys showed a strong decrease in use.
The Arboga Wild Fighters
Team: Brayden Walker, Mary Banach, Mary Campos, Diana Castelo, Lucy Merrill, Samantha Chittenden, Savannah Metzger, Joseph Kelly, and Naly Vue
Location: Arboga, CA
California’s wildfires have devastated the state, leaving thousands to rebuild their lives and homes, and have destroyed the natural habitat animals and plants rely on. In addition, toxic smoke has polluted the air to dangerous levels. Guided by teacher advisor Debbie Jones the team educated their community in the following ways: organized school assemblies to inform students about the dangers of wildfires and how to prevent them; brought in local firefighters to explain the effects of deforestation; distributed flyers with information on how to avoid backyard burning in windy conditions and other precautions; and put a group together to pick up items in public areas that could start a fire and to encourage others to do the same. In addition, the Arboga Wild Fighters advertised their plan on a local radio station program, KUBA Radio with Willie B, as well as the school’s Facebook page and on other social media platforms.
Big Green Titans Team
Team: Samara Alonso, Daniel Rax, Alejandro Cortes, Juan Meja, Christian Campos Garcia
Location: West Covina, CA
While billions of pounds of plastic bottles are thrown away each year, only a fraction get recycled. In turn, this leads to incredible amounts of waste sent to landfills, impacting our ecosystem, health, and economies. Led by teacher advisor Michelle. Du, this group pledged to do something about this problem, specifically addressing plastic bottles that—instead of being recycled—get thrown away into water and parks, causing marine life, birds, and other animals to die. The group organized a team bottle pickup plan in parks and created a flyer to inform their school community.
Team: Emmanuelle Magliato, Spencer Koonin, Jacob Gaines, Krishna Koka, Tyler Locke, Shannon Gibson
Location: Lagrangeville, NY
This group decided to address persistent organic pollutant (POP) contamination in the Hudson River because of its many detrimental public and environmental health impacts. With the help of teacher advisors Maribel Pregnall and Tricia Muraco, the students concentrated on a class of POPs known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that bioaccumulate throughout the food chain and collect in the fish many in the community eat. They created an aquaponics system to act as a model to show how uncontaminated food can be produced sustainably. After visiting established aquaponics systems and local organizations and conducting extensive research, they created their own system and raised PCB-free brown trout as well as growing and harvesting 75 Bibb lettuce plants 12 times, feeding more than 300 faculty, friends, and family members. They got the word out about their quest, actively posting on a blog and YouTube, as well as Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms, and taught K-12 classes about their work. The team also showcased their research at the Cornell Putnam County 4-H fair and received an Award of Excellence, presented their findings at a number of school events and local groups, and received a write-up in the Hudson Valley News.
Guardians of the Garbage
Team: Devika Rajeev, Hannah Philipose, Arianna Pahlavan, Sebica Katel, Audrey Zhong , Danny Li, Le Zhang, Zachary Rosenfeld
Location: Jericho, NY
Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) generation is expected to rise to more than 2.4 billion tons by 2025, due to rapid population growth and urbanization. To accommodate residual waste, landfills play an integral role for MSW disposal. Most landfill liners do not remain strong due to heavy wear and tear, and leak, resulting in groundwater pollution. In addition, petroleum hydrocarbon spills kill up to 25,900 marine mammals and 82,000 birds. The Guardians, aided by teacher advisor Serena McCalla, took on these issues by synthesizing an eco-friendly, inexpensive, and highly efficient polymer layer to absorb contaminant leakage, and also engineered PolyPetrol, a user-friendly app connected to a device that monitors oil concentration/possible leakage at oil rig sites. They also reached out to landfill waste management companies, government offices, and other community groups, as well as experts in these fields, then posted educational videos on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. In addition, the team designed a website that also boosted awareness and listed actions to take to reduce waste of all sorts.
Team: Michelle Briceno,Taj Diltz, Kiavash Kashanian, Moses Lin, Kayln Love, Shelby Luhring, Maggie McGrath, Zoe McKnight, Malcolm Oliviera, Zachary Siegel
Location: Frisco, TX
By taking an agricultural approach, the Special STEMS team showed it’s possible to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and cut down on food packaging to reduce landfill waste, soil erosion, and air pollution. They also strove to demonstrate that people with disabilities are not limited by their challenges but are able to be leaders in their communities and make vital contributions toward sustainability. Approaching their mission with help from Pam Carpenter, the group planted and harvested vegetables, fruits, and herbs at the Frisco community garden, hosted a fresh produce drive to create nutritional awareness, and started a vegetable garden project in Guatemala and seed projects in Uganda. They also: used Twitter to communicate their message of local agriculture’s environmental benefits; conducted polls, filmed videos, and posted updates; and started a dialogue with city leaders, community groups, and local nonprofits to create partnerships and support. A unique aspect of the team: five of 10 were from the school’s special needs program (called Functional Academics); the other five are general education students. Utilizing their Best Buddies chapter resources, they reached out to other campuses district-wide to hold similar produce drives to benefit Frisco Family Services. Because of that outreach and community impact, the city declared November 6 Special STEM Day.
Team: Sergio Briz, Eduardo Gonzalez, Alaysha Hampton, Ashley Harrison, Tyleek Jones, Jaila Stanley, Ashlee Walker, Kevin Washington, Larry Williams
Location: Houston, TX
With growing urbanization, aquatic habitats are being destroyed. In addition, the inability to find pesticide-free plants is a growing community concern. The AquaPioneers set out to discover a way to build an aquaponics habitat using cheap or recyclable resources that would naturally sustain the life of both plants and animals. With guidance from teacher, Timothy Lewis, they first visited shrinking aquatic habitats, then designed a mini simulation of one to determine an efficient and inexpensive path to sustainability. Using PVC pipes, clear bins, FlexSeal, zip ties, an aquarium air pump, a submersible pump and an ice machine tube, they created their test environment and added plants and fish. The experiment worked; the system was both functional and easy to maintain. The team then got the word out about their success and the importance of continuing their mission via daily updates on Instagram, Twitter, and a website.
Operation Endangered Species
Team: Olivia Baxter, David Bradford, Nicole Meimaris, Rose Sosnowski, and Catherine Zdunek
Location: Chicago, IL
The Alligator Snapping Turtle (AST) is currently classified as an endangered species; more than 3,000 hours of trapping has been recorded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. ASTs are crucial to the environment because they will eat almost anything, which helps keep the ecosystem’s populations under control. Aided by teacher Todd Katz, the group sought to build up the AST population and end the lack of awareness about the endangered species by: getting 18 Chicago Public Schools involved; purchasing ASTs from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife with funds the students raised via a GoFundMe page and grant writing; purchased necessary equipment, such as tanks, filters, and turtle food; distributed one AST per school to be raised in classrooms for two years; had teachers create lessons based around the turtles and the environment; and after two years, with the help of teachers and supervisors, placed trackers on 300 turtles and released them back into their native Southern Illinois habitat. Currently the students are also developing a program to introduce Operation Endangered Species to classes in Erechim, Brazil.
Team: Abby Quinn, Clara Barton, Lily Baylis, Maria Knasel, Neve Stewart, Kristin Koneiczyny, Meg Baylis, Bridget Rasure, Starya Long, Caroline Fesler
Location: Saint Louis, MO
Since the 1960s, U.S. plastic production has increased without proportionate strategies for waste management, generating billions of metric tons of plastic waste. More materials are being dumped into landfills by private recycling companies because they can’t handle the financial burden of processing, leaving municipalities to figure out what and how to recycle. The Cap Queens, with help from teacher advisors Lydia Bach and Dawn Johnson, chose to focus on the lack of recycling education and misinformation surrounding the issue, and encourage upcycling as an alternative. The group collected plastic bottle caps, made locker magnets to post information about recycling and upcycling, and got the Lower School Science Club involved by having younger students help them create a playground mural using magnets and bottle caps. They also went into fourth and fifth grade classrooms and gave presentations on the topic. The sixth grade is now in the process of developing apps to improve recycling habits and send out alerts of recycling industry developments.
Team: Keith Neil, Ashantay Griffin, Alesia Nez, Kammy Sue Atcitty, Filisi Mauga, Keona Hosteen, Kamia Leano, Kiera Charley, Sky Harper
Location: Farmington, NM
After noticing their school cafeteria had more than 10 trash bags filled with Styrofoam containers plus extensive cardboard trash in dumpsters after every meal, and researching how these materials pollute and fill landfills, K4AsF Eagles decided to reduce, reuse, and recycle the trash. Led by advisor Yolanda Flores, they decided to make bricks from shredded cardboard and Styrofoam mixed with cement. After sending mini bricks to IBM for 3-Point fracture tests in an Instron compression machine, they were able to come up with the right quantities of materials to produce reduced-weight bricks that had reasonable strength for long-term use. In connection with the Going Green with the School Garden project, they used the bricks to pave the garden’s patio. To publicize their efforts, the group created flyers, posters, and social media sites informing the community about their efforts to help both the school and the environment. Going forward, the team will push the school community to opt for reusable plates, cups, and utensils, and will also recommend ending Styrofoam use.
Team: Isabella Brakhage, Benjamin Rosen, Isha Batra, Madison Rippetoe, Luke Wolsko, Mana Setayesh, Jessica Kalloor
Location: Lafayette, CO
In Colorado, there are more than 30 endangered species, all of which contribute to the state’s biodiversity. The Endanger Changers made it their mission to protect these animals and work to keep them from extinction. In addition, they strove to educate people on how critical it is to save wildlife and lower the rate of endangered species. The students, advised by teacher Kristie Letter, created a foundation and website to illustrate the problem and how the community can help; it included interactive games for each animal to help children understand the problem, too. In addition, the team created an Instagram page and an informative brochure about their quest, and partnered with the Thorne Nature Center and WILD local organizations to help get the word out.