East Hartford High School STEM students win first place at Connecticut Student Innovation Expo

By Corey AmEnde - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Mon., May. 20, 2013
The East Hartford High School ninth-grade STEM team won first place in their grade category at Student Innovation Expo for their Water Hornet project. Photo courtesy of Christine Lawlor-King. - Contributed Photo

Taylor Hollis, Jose Rodriguez and the other members of East Hartford High School’s ninth-grade Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) team sat anxiously in their seats at the Connecticut Convention Center, waiting for their name to be called.

The closing ceremonies for the Connecticut Student Innovation Expo on Saturday, May 2, were nearing the end, with no announcement yet on where - or even if - the STEM team’s project, the Water Hornet, had placed.

“When we finally got to our category, I remember the entire row of people I was sitting in, my class, we were all holding hands, eyes closed, looking down like, 'Please be us, please be us,'” recalled Hollis.

“Third was announced and it wasn’t us, so we were kind of looking at each other,” recounted Rodriguez.  “Second was announced and it wasn’t us.”

And they waited to hear their school's name announced - but it never was.

“So then we heard, and actually for a moment we thought we hadn’t won because we were waiting for the 'E' of 'East Hartford,' and they said the 'W' for 'Water Hornet,' and we all kind of jumped up.  It was exciting,” said Rodriguez.

The announcement that the students had just won first place for the Water Hornet from the Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences' ninth-grade responsible design challenge was the perfect exclamation point on months of research, preparation and problem-solving for the team of 18 EHHS ninth-grade STEM students.

“We have worked so hard and so long, and it was so good to show the students if you work hard, it pays off,” said science teacher Christine Lawlor-King.  “It was just pure excitement.”

And this wasn’t the only honor for the first-year STEM program at EHHS.  Earlier in the year, the students won best proposal for their project, earning them $50 towards the cost of building the Water Hornet.

The purpose of the Water Hornet - or “Water H20rnet,” as the students describe it on their website - is to help tame the mosquito population by stirring standing water found in small pools and bird baths, which are perfect breeding grounds for the pesky bugs.

“When we started researching, we found that they [mosquitoes] lay their eggs in still water, so we figured, 'Let’s keep them out of still water in your backyards, from bird baths and kiddy pools and things like that,'” explained Hollis.

In keeping with the theme of responsible design, the Water Hornet is powered by solar energy which is collected in four solar panels that are attached around the exterior of the unit.  These solar panels help power a 2.76-volt direct current motor.  There are also two sets of two rechargeable battery packs that are designed to power the motor in evening hours.

The top of the unit - which contains the motor, battery packs and solar panels - is propped up by four legs, to keep the electrical components above the water.  A small propeller to stir the water is attached to the motor. 

Lawlor-King said the idea stemmed from her affiliation with Yale University, where she is studying mosquitoes and the diseases they spread as part of her fellowship.

“The kids learned that mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, which is in everyone’s yard right now,” said Lawlor-King.  “So they wanted to create a device that moved water in these things like bird baths so mosquitoes wouldn’t lay their eggs, and thus we could reduce the mosquito population.”

In addition to designing and building the Water Hornet, the students also had to produce a comprehensive presentation for the expo, which included more than 25 schools from Connecticut.  The presentation included decorating a small booth at the Connecticut Convention Center, utilizing social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, formulating a marketing plan and creating a website (www.keepthewatermoving.com).

There was also a public speaking element to this project, which included a three-minute presentation that Hollis and another student gave to a room with more than 100 people in it.  The other component was answering questions from judges at the booth, a role that Rodriguez handled.

“Basically I was just explaining to the public and then I turned around and there was a guy with a clipboard telling me, ‘Hey, I’m the judge, explain this,’” said Rodriguez.  “They would listen to you talk.  They would ask you questions and just be curious about everything and then they would go around the booth and gather everything we had like fliers and magnets and all that to check out.”

Winning the competition was definitely an accomplishment, but long after the dust settles on the first-place plaque, the students will always have a life lesson to guide them in future endeavors.

“It really brought out the best in them [Jose and Taylor].  If we just had a regular class I don’t know if I would have seen the leadership potential,” said Lawlor-King.  “These two took the reigns on everything, wanted to be involved in everything. In regular class, you miss that.  With this opportunity, I got to see a different side of all the kids, but with these two I saw future leaders.”

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