Two teams of innovative Valley View Middle School students excel in NASA challenge
Students and teacher Erika Robbins at the Goddard Center.
SNOHOMISH — They didn’t reach space, but two eighth grade teams from Valley View Middle School just completed NASA challenges that could ease future life on Earth.
Eight Valley View students, along with science teacher Erika Robbins, flew to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland last month to accept first-place awards in the Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge (OPSPARC) 2019.
The annual contest invites students in grades 3 through 12 to re-imagine uses for existing NASA technology to solve societal issues.
It is the first time in the competition’s history that one school has produced a pair of winning entries.
“I didn’t believe it,” Robbins said of hearing the news. “Not just one, but two teams? That’s unheard of. We were very shocked, yet very excited at the same time.”
A quartet of Natalie Evans, Zoey Stein, Kenda Eder and Alana Flores designed a strap-on face mask that filters air pollution, leveraging a NASA technology called “particle contamination mitigation.”
They won the middle school Mission 3 category, which required presenting a 3D model and a marketing plan within NASA’s virtual world setting. Three other Valley View team designs filled the finalists group. Among their designs are a way to repurpose plastic using a 3D printer; a simple malaria detection kit; and and using a quadcopter drone to locate missing people.
A team of Molly Kernan, Kailyn Kim and Linnea Mitchell proposed adapting a sunshield coating from the James Webb Space Telescope to cool homes in hot countries.
They topped middle-school competitors in Mission 2 —redesigning a NASA technology and using it to solve a societal problem.
The Mission 2 group used tinfoil to mimic Kapton, a substance that protects the Webb telescope from the sun. In a model house protected by tinfoil, the temperature rose only 1 degree. In a non-protected model, the temperature soared 18 degrees.
Three other Valley View teams also were finalists in this competition. Their designs were: An underwater sensor to keep boats from running aground; an ocean trash collector; and using the particle filter to create clean water for developing countries.
All the squads worked long hours, including after school and lunch periods, perfecting their innovations. Collaboration wasn’t always smooth.
“We bumped heads quite a bit,” Eder said. “I learned a lot about teamwork and cooperation.”
Her team settled disputes by majority vote. When there was a 2-2 tie, someone had to compromise.
Perhaps the most daunting challenge for Mission 3 teams was importing 3D models to NASA’s virtual platform.
For that, the Valley View squad turned to Jomardee Perkins, an Everett native who graduated from the University of Washington last year with a degree in physics.
“I was astonished, yet at the same time I knew,” Perkins said. “These girls are the hardest-working team I’ve ever had. So (their victory) was not so much of a surprise to me.”
Perkins accompanied the group to Maryland, where they attended workshops, explored labs and met NASA scientists.
“It was really neat, being able to see them share their work with very influential people at NASA wearing fancy suits and ties,” teacher Robbins said. “For the most part, these are shy kids. To get up in front and give a presentation was outside their comfort zones.”
But the highlight of the trip, the girls agreed, was a half-hour meeting with Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime in the 1980s “Transformers” animated series.
“It was a really, really cool experience,” Evans said. “We did a little doodle, and he did a voice for it.”
Cullen also made each student an honorary Autobot and announced their names in his Optimus Prime baritone.
The next step for each Valley View team, if they choose to take it, would be patenting and marketing their innovations. The girls said they haven’t decided yet.
Their tutor Perkins, for one, thinks they should.
“(Their creations) target overpopulated countries, and citizens, too,” she said. “They benefit not only the poor, but the rich, middle class…they could benefit everybody.”
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