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Draper Journal

Three Channing Hall students’ science project wins trip to national eCYBERMISSION competition

Aug 29, 2019 09:16AM ● By Julie Slama

Channing Hall eighth-graders Georgia Barrett, Sophie Hoecherl and Saskia Willey as team Think Blue won both the state and regional eCYBERMISSION science competitions to receive an all-expense paid trip to compete at 17th annual national contest. (Photo courtesy of Channing Hall)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Three Channing Hall students may have found an easy solution to desalinating ocean water for household use even though they live about 1,000 miles away from the nearest shoreline.

Now as Channing Hall eighth-graders, Georgia Barrett, Sophie Hoecherl and Saskia Willey worked last school year as team Think Blue to develop a device that can desalinate water at home. After winning local and regional eCYBERMISSION competitions, they received an all-expense-paid trip to compete at the 17th annual national contest in mid-June in Arlington, Virginia.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Saskia said about when their first-year science teacher Jeff Meyers pulled them aside before class one morning with the news they would compete at nationals. “I wasn’t sure our interview went well with the regional competition, so it was complete shock. I felt like I was going to cry.”

The eCYBERMISSION competition, which is sponsored by the U.S. Army and administered by the National Science Teachers Association, is designed to cultivate student interest in STEM (science, technology, education and math) by encouraging students in grades six through nine to develop solutions to real-world problems in their local communities.

“It’s exciting to see students thinking beyond the science classroom, connecting what they have learned in school to practical applications, while actively engaging their community to make a real difference in the world around them,” NSTA executive director David Evans said. “I hope the success of these students will inspire others to follow in their footsteps.”

Think Blue’s portable desalination project uses items that can easily be obtained, which makes it cost-effective and useable for low-income families, including those who may live on some of African coastlines, Saskia said.

“The year before, Georgia, another girl and I researched solar desalination, but it didn’t work as well. When Sophie teamed up with us this past year, we looked at ways to make it more effective and efficient. We wanted to keep the cost under $60, and it’s probably about half that cost, and have it small and portable. With our research, we learned the largest population who needs fresh water lives along the coast, so we concentrated on desalinating ocean water,” she said.

The girls superglued a mason jar to an acrylic tube. Then, using a hot plate, they tested both a metal plate (the mason jar lid) and a glass bowl with cold water to determine the best method. The group was able to successfully gather about 16 milliliters in the five minutes they tested with the glass bowl. They also tested different angles for the tube before deciding the 15-degree bend was the most effective, Sophie said.

“Saskia had read a fantasy book about a person collecting water through condensation and she thought it was cool,” Sophie said. “We were looking at problems going on in the world and having access to fresh water was one so we took that idea to see what we could do in real life, using materials people already have.”

Of course, there were trials along the way as they recalled trying to heat the mason jar directly on the heating plate, which resulted in a breaking the mason jar.

Think Blue was awarded $4,000 in U.S. E.E. savings bonds (matured value) for both the state and regional eCYBERMISSION titles, and advanced to nationals. The girls, also recognized by Draper City Council, are investigating the possibility of patenting their project.

“We know we didn’t take first at nationals, but we were one of the top five or six teams across the country for seventh grade,” Sophie said. “Nationals was amazing, there were students who had awesome projects and we got to do fun experiments, working with engineers and scientists, using STEM skills to look at real-world problems.”

Other teams from across the nation entered projects such as “Oh Deer!” where reflective grass is planted along roads to help light up roadways when headlights are on and prevent cars from hitting deer; different ways to reduce, reuse and recycle such as taking old lettuce to fertilize plants; and creating a watch that could alert parents when their child is in danger.

Georgia said she enjoyed some of the engineering projects such as test packaging six Oreos to determine the best way to have them not break; running water through a sand table to determine the best ways to protect a scaled mock city and bird refuge; and learning about robotic uses, such as opening a container or drawer.

As the eCYBERMISSION competition is sponsored by the U.S. Army, these workshops tied into real-life applications: testing Oreo packaging to help improve packaging to the military in the field; helping engineer better ways to build walls to prevent flooding; and understanding the advances in technology and ways it can help in the military.

“I hadn’t thought of some of these things before and didn’t know there were some people out there who do this, so it was all new to me,” Georgia said. 

Saskia also said it was a high point.

“We got to work as a group on projects with scientists. It definitely was a highlight,” she said.

The team also had a day to visit several monuments and memorials and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

“We explored the National Mall, the botanical gardens and met our senator,” Georgia said.

In fact, Sen. Mike Lee, who they said was keenly interested in their project, invited the girls for green Jell-O the day before they presented their project to a panel of judges in a closed-door session. At nationals, there were among the top 20 teams from sixth through ninth grades from more than 7,000 teams across the country who initially took part in the online competition.

“They asked us a lot of questions specifically on our project and who it will benefit and gave us feedback how to implement it,” Sophia said. “They asked our favorite part. After taking a long time to research and create the project, we were really proud of getting our results and being able to desalinate the water.” 

Through the project, the girls said they improved their research and presentation skills, which resulted in them coming together as a team to build a workable project that may help folks obtain fresh water. They even plan to continue studying desalination and look for ways to work together this coming school year.

“It’s been great, all of us already knew each other and had worked together on other projects, so we knew how to balance one another, to pull our strengths out,” Sophia said. “It’s been amazing what we can do.”

Meyers said many students at Channing Hall, which has the International Baccalaureate’s primary and middle years programs, look at real-world problems to find a solution. 

“They did well,” he said about the team he described as driven, smart and can communicate well. “They researched and learned about 2.5% of the world has access to fresh water, they talked to experts in the field, came up with an idea, got feedback, and developed a way to help people. They wanted to make sure it had an impact.”

Working together to find an answer to helping people was key for Georgia.

“With this whole project, we got to experience so many things that most people don’t get to experience,” Georgia said. “But the best thing was creating something to help people and working with my team.”