From Christopher Columbus Fellowship Awards:
Bright ideas, solid research and teamwork won four students from Whiteface Science RocksU in Whiteface, TX, a spot as finalists in the Christopher Columbus Awards, a nationwide program that challenges middle-school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities. Sixth-graders Daniel Rivas, Luke Blake and Frankie Sanchez, and their coach, Laura Wilbanks, made it to the semifinals last month and are now one of eight finalist teams in the country to compete for the grand prize - the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant.
With wildfires a frequent occurrence in Texs, it seemed natural that the Flame On! team would be concerned about the effects of wildfires and whether damages sustained by homes could be lessened. They found that the cost of wildfires that spread to homes is 3 to 30 times higher than previously thought in terms of social, economic and ecological damage. Other impacts include loss of property, possessions and the possibility of homelessness.
The results of the team's Internet research and interviews with people who had experience wildfires - those whose homes were lost or are in wildfire risk areas, as well as local fire chiefs and firefighters - showed them that the roof is often the first part of a home to catch fire in a wildfire. This led the team to develop a non-toxic polymer coating that could be used in manufacturing roofing material to make the roof more fire resistant. The polymer is a material that has amazing properties including the ability to absorb 300 times its weight in water. This would make it extremely flame-resistant. It could also potentially be added to other building materials in the future to make fire damage even less.
The team remarked, "There must be a way to lower this high cost of living near beautiful places and out of the urban rat race. The possibility exists when homes are built to withstand the encroachment of fire. Will the home become fire proof? Not unless it's build of concrete; but, polymers, which can be used as an additive in the manufacturing of shingles, help give firefighters a better chance of saving homes by drastically slowing the spread of flames across roofs."
A panel of community leaders, scientists and experts in science education selected this idea as one of the top eight entries in the U.S. More than 850 students and coaches participated nationwide.
The team and their coach won an all-expense-paid trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, where they will compete in the Christopher Columbus Awards National Championship Week, June 9-14, 2013, plus a $200 grant to further develop their project.
Two GTold Medal winning teams will be selected, with each team member receiving a $2,000 cash prize. The entries will be judge again to select the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant to help bring the winning team's project to life in their community.
The finalists will also attend the Christopher Columbus Academy, a custom-designed educational program. Conducted by scientists, engineers and educators, the program reveals the science and technology behind the thrills and excited of the Magic Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios.
The Christopher Columbus Awards challenge teams of middle-school students to explore and discover opportunities for positive change in their communities using science and technology. The program is now in its 17th year and has attracted more than 19,000 students from diverse backgrounds all across the U.S. The program is sponsored by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation (www.christophercolumbusfoundation.gov) and is endorsed by the Association of Middle Level Education. Past winners have included a team from San Diego that has secured a provisional patent for a specialized seat cushion design that uses sensory feedback to train people to maintain a healthy posture while sitting at a computer, and a group of students from Illinois who developed a multifaceted recycling awareness campaign that increased recycling in their community by 60% in just four months.
The program attracts many students who may not typically enter a science competition. More than half of the entrants are girls, and nearly a fourth are from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, statistics that are high than those of most science competition. The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation believes the teamwork aspect and community focus draw a broader range of students to enter.
The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is an independent Federal government agency created by Congress in 1992 to encourage and support research, study and labor designed to produce new discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind. The Foundation has established Frontiers of Discover-Work in Progress and Discover the Future programs that recognize "cutting edge" innovations, innovative ideas of America's youth, and honor teachers. These programs include the Agriscience Awards, Life Science Awards and Christopher Columbus Awards.
For more information, call 1-800-291-6020 or visit www.christophercolumbusawards.com