NHS students move ahead

By: 
Alexis Barker

Newcastle High School
students Derrick Rasmussen and Autumn Mills placed third and second, respectively, in the Physical Science category at the Northeast Regional Science Fair
Jan. 30th. 
(Photo by Alexis Barker/NLJ)

Alexis Barker

NLJ Reporter

 

Newcastle High School students and science instructor Jim Stith are one step closer to being a national finalist team in the Samsung Solve For Tomorrow Contest. The contest is “a program that encourages students to solve real-world issues in their community using classroom skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),” according to a Jan. 3 press release. 

“Because of their unique solution to inspire change, Newcastle High School in Newcastle has been named the Wyoming state winner in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest,” the release states. 

This puts the school among the nation’s 50 state winners. 

Stith, who submitted the proposal for the contest, and five students – Kolby Pisciotti, P.J. Martin, Markie Whitney, Shelby Davis and Owen Cox – plan to develop a device that hopefully will abate white-nose syndrome, a mysterious disease that has killed millions of bats across the United States. 

“The student-designed device will be deployed at the mouths of caves where bats roost. Bats entering the cave will be sanitized with the anti-fungal spray and will keep from infecting other bats,” Stith’s proposal says. “The students in this project plan to develop and prototype such a device as part of the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition.” 

Stith said that he and his students hope this method of delivering the anti-fungal spray will be an efficient means of fighting the disease and preserving the bat population. According to Stith, he chose to address the white-nose syndrome problems because bats are an important and sometimes overlooked part of the ecosystem. 

“This fungus is spreading and wiping out large portions of the nation’s bat population,” Stith said. 

Students are to be involved in all stages of the project, according to Stith, from planning, coding, building and prototyping the system. 

“I wasn’t interested in bats before,” Whitney said. 

“But we started to do research, and bats are important and they are dying,” Davis said. 

As part of the project, the students and Stith visited with Laura Beard, a State of Wyoming non-game biologist about what the state is doing to address white-nose syndrome, and the News Letter Journal was invited to be there. 

Student Cox said that the device they are designing will release the anti-fungal spray when an invisible wire is tripped by bats entering or exiting a cave. 

The students, and Stith, learned that bat populations in Wyoming aren’t as large as those in other states. Beard reported that the largest hibernacula (place where bats take refuge) in Wyoming is 75 bats, while Jewel Cave has nearly 2,500.

Beard said that examining bats in Wyoming is a little bit harder than in other states because they are so scarce and some cannot even be located during the winter. She also told Stith that the exact location of bat hibernacula in Wyoming are not released to the public and that maps would only show a general area. 

But the idea developed by Stith and his students is more economically friendly than other means being deployed to fight the disease, including an atomizing fogger on boats, Beard said. She also suggested the group look at the pros and cons involved with the concept and to really look at what implementation would look like. 

“One thing that can be an issue is coverage,” Beard said. 

She told the group that they will need to focus on how to spray all of the bats when the cave has a large exit. 

“Right now we are just doing a proof of concept in a box,” Stith said. “This is an independent project outside of the normal curriculum.” 

Beard said that the project was a novel idea and that she hopes the students will keep her up to date on their accomplishments. 

“The scale and importance of the issues addressed in this year’s contest reflect how students are taking responsibility for their role as change agents for the future,” said Ann Woo, senior director of corporate citizenship for Samsung Electronics America. “These state winners and trailblazing teachers and students are taking action to create tangible solutions and promote positive change. Samsung is proud to support their vision for a brighter future and looks forward to seeing how they will use imagination and creativity with complex technologies such as VR and 3D printing to bring these projects to life.” 

For having a team selected state winners for Wyoming, Newcastle High School will receive $20,000 in technology and a Samsung video kit. The video kit will be used to help the students create and submit a three-minute video showcasing their project development and how it addresses the selected issue. 

If selected to move on to the next phase of the project, Stith and his students will compete against 10 national finalists at an event where the finalists present their project to a panel of judges. 

“For achieving national finalist status, 7 schools will receive a $50,000 Samsung technology package. The other three will progress to the national winner stage,” the release states. “Three national grand prize winners will be selected and each will receive a $100,000 Samsung technology package.” 

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