Mount Saint Mary’s students enjoy STEAM challenge |

Mount Saint Mary’s students enjoy STEAM challenge

Lynn McDaniel
Special to The Union

With their solar heater, a Gold Medal winner for Environment/Agricultural Innovation, are Faith Phillips and Sydney Franks.

Mount Saint Mary's students participated recently in an event that combined the previous countywide math competition and science fair into a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) Expo. It included a challenging format that offered a variety of mainstream competitions.

"The focus of the new format and categories was to have students utilize a problem-solving process and see real world applications for what they were doing. In general, students completed the math projects on their own, with very little input from teachers," said math teacher and STEM adviser Dave Pistone. "The focus was to utilize a thorough thought process and methodology to systematically solve a problem."

Students were not only asked to complete a project but to explain the "why" behind the project and what was learned. 

Ivy Brott, an eighth grader, tackled the Scientific Inquiry category and earned a gold medal for building a hydroelectric water turbine for testing paddle efficiency. She made three different paddles and interchanged them in order to see which one produced the most electrical current. She learned that paddles at a 45-degree angle to the axle are most efficient and produced the most electrical current.

Brott's goal was to create a turbine that could be used in one of the many small creeks around Nevada County. She had intended to use Deer Creek, but water levels were too high due to current weather conditions, so she ended up using a small creek in her neighborhood.

Brott is interested in engineering and wanted to build something with a real-world application.

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She learned that in Oregon, the water pipes have turbines able to power streetlights and various items around the city, which is what sparked her interest in this particular project.

"I really enjoyed spreading the word about my project and educating people about how it could be applicable in the real world," said Brott.

Earning a bronze in Scientific Inquiry were Grace Billingsley and Isabella O'Neill.  

Billingsley took different roofing materials, composite, metal, slate, and clay, and tested water run-off to see the effects the materials had on the water, since many residents in Nevada County use this run-off for their house water. She found that the best material to use was pre-painted metal, since chemicals don't come off of metal and get absorbed into the water. Also, leaves slide off easily. Metal, which lasts up to 100 years, is also great for circulation and insulation and is fireproof.

"If I was going to use rainwater as a potable source, I would want a metal roof but would still filter it through chlorine," concluded Billingsley.

O'Neill, in search of a way to reuse washing machine water, built three six-foot by one-foot PVC pipe swales, one that contained bark, one grass, and one septic rock that gray water from a washing machine was filtered through. The filtered water was then tested for ph, alkalinity, hardness, copper, iron, nitrates, nitrites and chlorine.  

It appeared to O'Neill that the water filtered through septic rock was the clearest, yet she learned that the best filter was grass, since water took the longest time to filter through it. Water that filtered through bark looked the worst and tested so. Bark peels apart easily and comes in a bag, which O'Neill realized most likely also included other chemicals. She concluded that grass and rock are better filters since they are natural materials.

O'Neill learned that after the water was filtered through grass, it was potable, except for drinking, because the nitrate levels were still too high, but had she made the pipe longer, it could even meet standards for drinking.

"What was most interesting was seeing how much wasted washing machine water (gray water) there is and how we can re-use it naturally," said O'Neill.

Local schools were invited to bring exhibits of some of their favorite class projects. Some eighth graders had worked in groups to build paper rollercoasters, and they chose one created by Ali McDaniel, Grace Billingsley, and Josh Russo, to put on exhibit. It was a hit with EXPO visitors. It got posted to the STEAM twitter page and was then re-tweeted by Rube Works Game and had 3,622 followers as of April 12.

O'Neill was also awarded the first place Engineering Award and $75, and Billingsley earned third place honors and $25.  

O'Neill, Billingsley, and Brott will be heading to the State STEAM Fair, held on the USC campus, on May 23-24.

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