Innovative students present ideas and score $100,000
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
By Hope Belli Tinney, WSU Today
PULLMAN - Hundreds of top students from more than 30 high schools presented abundant evidence May 22 at WSU's Imagine Tomorrow problem-solving competition that tomorrow can be better than today.
"I find the things you have done inspiring,” said event co-chair and WSU professor Grant Norton.
Norton said winning prizes is great, but all of the students who participated were winners. “It’s about the fact that you all are making contributions to make this world a better place,” he said. “I think you are incredible.”
The third annual competition included refinements of ideas presented at previous competitions, from producing biofuels to encouraging recycling.
Also present were novel ideas. Students at Ballard High School proposed using lauric acid -- a derivative of coconut oil -- to insulate homes. A group from Wapato High School proposed making water bottles out of candy. One group encouraged shoe recycling and other built a prototype for a wind powered bike.
Making it happen
From Blaine to Clarkston and from Colville to Camas, students from across Washington state brought not only their ideas for a more sustainable future, but evidence that they are making it happen. A brief sampling includes:
• FFA students from Ferndale High School have met with their state representative to discuss ways to make anaerobic digesters more affordable for dairy farmers.
• Students at Camas High School not only wrote a children’s book about conservation, but the book’s hero, Captain Conservation, visited local elementary schools to spread the word.
• At Tacoma School for the Arts, two students laid the groundwork for a composting project at a nearby elementary school. They taught classes, created a comprehensive website, and even composed a catchy composting rap.
• Lake Roosevelt High School students created a small, inexpensive and reusable solar water pasteurization kit, complete with operating instructions. Now they are working with a teacher in Malawi to use their invention to help prevent water-borne disease in that country.
• A recycling project at Heritage High School is saving their school $500 each month in garbage fees and providing compost for their garden project as well.
$100,000 in prize money
The overarching theme of the competition is finding ways to use alternate energy sources and reduce our dependency on nonrenewable resources. Competing for more than $100,000 in prize money, students were invited to enter projects in one of four categories: design, behavior, technology and multidisciplinary collaboration.
Powering the bus
This year’s grand prize team was from Heritage High School in Vancouver. Competing in the design category, the students imagined and created a more sustainable way to power their school buses using old cooking oil. The school from southwest Washington brought seven teams to the competition, and they also took home first and second prizes in the multidisciplinary collaboration category.
Jim Neiman, the biodiesel teacher at Heritage High School, said the awards are “icing on the cake.” The real reward, he said, is watching the students take ownership of such important work. Students in the biodiesel program have created a system that is producing up to 200 gallons of fuel each week.
State education official impressed
“I continue to be impressed by the quality of work that I see,” said Rudi Bertschi, a technology advisor with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Students gain different benefits from the competition, he said. Some conducted high-level research and were able to talk with faculty experts and industry leaders to refine their ideas. Some students get excited about a concept and challenge themselves to replicate something they’ve read about or seen online.
“It’s an enormously rich learning experience,” he said, and one that OSPI would like to find more ways to support. Bertschi said he also was excited to see students thinking more globally. For instance, he said, students from Ballard High School built a vertical axis wind turbine from recycled materials that could easily be found in developing countries. “They recognize that the turbine is not appropriate for running a refrigerator,” he said, “but it might be appropriate for running technology” like a laptop in a rural school.
Imagine Tomorrow requires students to work in teams of two to five members and have a school-based advisor, but for most of the students, the vast majority of work is done outside of class.
“It’s great to see high school students get really excited about their projects,” said Angela Dodd, a scientist from Weyerhaeuser who was one of the 80 competition judges.
Jay Snook, a science teacher at Clarkston High School, said his students had been “camped out” in his classroom for the past three months working on their projects. One of those projects was figuring out how people on septic tanks might be able to convert their homes to biodigesters.
Danielle Simpson, 18, said she got interested in the project after listening to a discussion at a Public Utilities District (PUD) meeting and heard that some septic tanks are starting to fail in Clarkston Heights. She and her partner, Lara Roche-Sudar, decided that if bio-digesters could work for animal farms, they could work for family homes as well.
Craig Frear, a scientist with WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, said he was impressed by the increased complexity of the projects, especially from schools that have been sending teams for several years.
“They’ve had three years to build this into their curriculum and it shows,” he said. Frear said he appreciates, and he thinks the students appreciate, that the Imagine Tomorrow competition is structured so that students have significant time to talk with faculty members and industry leaders. “These kids are getting hours, not minutes, of interaction with the judges,” he said.
Frear said he was pleased to see more attention to data collection in projects this year. “When we told people (in previous years) they lost points because of experimental design, they’re taking it to heart,” he said.
Roofing to hydrogen fuel cells
A group from Camas High School experimented with a half dozen different roofing materials to demonstrate how using a light-colored roofing material could dramatically cut cooling costs in the summer. “We’re using these facts to encourage people to change their behavior,” said freshman Amanda Reiter, pointing at the data graph. Her group used that information to create brochures and fliers to distribute to the public.
Another group from Camas High created a hydrogen fuel cell and installed it in a 1998 Volvo which they drove to the competition. It increased their miles per gallon by about 6 percent, said Sarah Brizek, but even more importantly, it cut emissions of hydrocarbons by 22 percent.
“This information is too good,” said teammate Julianne Johnson, “we’ve got to get it out there.”
That feeling was shared by FFA students at Ferndale High School who built an anaerobic digester that, they believe, could help keep dairy farmers in business. Not only would do the digesters produce energy, thereby saving the farmers money, but they also capture the waste, which protects the environment and keeps the neighbors happy.
Braydon Westhoff, 15, whose family raises pigs and cattle, sometimes helps on his neighbor’s dairy farm. So, he said, for him this project is personal. At first the team just wanted to build a digester, he said, but once they realized that the technology already existed, they shifted their focus to education. “We got ourselves informed and now we want to inform others,” he said.
They’ve already met with state Rep. Kelli Linville to talk about legislation for low-interest loans to assist dairy farmers who can’t afford to make the initial investment in the technology. “We want to be able to say, ‘Hey, we saved this farm because of what we did,’” he said.
Bilingual projects and vampire energy
Three teams from Pullman also entered the competition. Pullman High School teacher Tina Fernandez encouraged students in her fourth year Spanish class to create bilingual projects. Team Valencia organized an improved recycling program at the school and Team Barcelona created a model of a more sustainable high school that takes advantage of a variety of energy-efficient design ideas and technology. A group from Pullman Christian School tackled the problem of “vampire” power and explored ways to reduce the amount of electricity lost by appliances that are plugged in but not in use.
50 sponsoring organizations
The Imagine Tomorrow competition is supported by more than 50 different sponsoring organizations, private businesses, or individuals, including the Paul G Allen Family Foundation, Bank of America, The Boeing Company, BP and Weyerhauser. Miles Drake, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Weyerhaeuser is co-chair of the event with WSU’s professor Norton. Mary Armstrong, vice president of environment, health and safety for The Boeing Company was the keynote speaker.
2010 Imagine Tomorrow winners are as follows:
#9 Oil Collection and Biodiesel, Heritage High School, Vancouver
Category specific challenges:
First Place: #69 Solar Water, Lake Roosevelt High School, Coulee Dam
Second Place: #65 Children’s Books for Change, Camas High School
Third Place: #95 Reflective Roofs, Camas High School, Camas
Students were asked to consider the question of why people are resistant to adopting and implementing alternate sources of energy.
First place: #94 -- Energy Smart Heritage High School, Heritage High School, Vancouver
Second place: #83 -- Pyrolysis-Carbon-Negative Process, Heritage High School, Vancouver
Third place: #99 -- Electric Robot Tractor, Rosalia High School, Rosalia
Students were asked to develop a project that incorporates expertise from at least two distinct disciplines.
First place: #44 Lauric Acid Heat Sync, Bellingham High School, Bellingham
Second place: #54 Paving the Future, Redmond High School, Redmond
Third place: #81 Myco Remediation and Myco Fuels, Bellingham High School, Bellingham
Students were asked to invent or redesign a machine or process that uses sustainable technologies for energy production, consumption, and conservation.
First place: #7 The ABC’s of Composting, Tacoma School of the Arts
Second place: #19 I’ll Huff and Puff, Auburn Riverside High School
Third place: #10 The Rebel Base from Redmond High School
Students were asked to design a living/working space (a building, suburb, town, or city) that has significantly lower CO2 emissions than at present.
Most innovative: #101 -- Wireless Energy Transmission from North Thurston High School, Lacey. Awarded to the project that our judges deemed the most inventive and original.
Most likely to succeed in the marketplace: #90 -- Green Machine from Ballard High School, Seattle. This award honors a project that our judges believe have great commercial potential.
Community impact award: #26 Anaerobic Digester from Ferndale High School, Ferndale. The project receiving this award can be easily implemented on a small scale, giving communities the power to transform themselves.
Global impact award: #47 Vertical Axis Savonius Turbine from Ballard High School, Seattle. Recognizes a project that transcends cultural boundaries and has the potential to touch lives worldwide.
Advisors’ favorite: #69 Solar Water from Lake Roosevelt High School, Coulee Dam. Team Advisors selected this entry as their favorite.
Most inspirational: #53 Cellulosic Ethanol from Blackberry Vines, Todd Beamer High School, Federal Way. This award acknowledges teams that have persevered in the face of hardship or obstacles on their way to compete.