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Another HMS science team makes the grade nationally

This team of Hudson Middle School scientists is the latest in a growing number of students who compete nationally every year to solve environmental and other problems facing the planet. They have several things in common including curiosity, commitment and their teacher, Chris Deleon. Picture from left with Deleon is Kirsten Amman, Page Garza, Anna Arthur and Yasha Bol. (Hudson Star-Observer photos by Meg Heaton)1 / 2
The Nitrate Nixers created a test pond for their floating gardens that remove harmful nitrates from the water. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

In what is becoming a kind of pattern at Hudson Middle School, a team of eighth-grade science students have impressed the professionals with their problem-solving imaginations.

The team, the Nitrate Nixers included Page Garza, Kirsten Amman, Anna Arthur and Yasha Bol, all 14, and students of HMS teacher Chris Deleon. This year they participated in the U.S. Army’s “E Cyber Mission,” a nationwide competition. The mission they chose was to solve a problem in their community relating to the environment.

The Nitrate Nixers completed a detailed “mission folder” that outlined the problem they would focus on, their plan to address it, the research behind their solution and the role each of them played in the process.

The all-female team decided to tackle the problem of water quality and the impact of nitrates. They wrote in their mission statement, “This is a perfect predicament to do our research on because it impacts Wisconsin so much with the amount of fertilizer that farmers in our state use. We had never heard of this problem before researching the project, so our team assumed that other schools and communities didn’t know about it as well. Through our project we would not only be working to solve this issue, but also drawing attention to it.”

Their idea led to a very natural solution. They reasoned that if plants take up nitrates through their roots to grow, the introduction of “floating gardens” into a body of water could result in improving overall water quality.

The team looks for a way to create the gardens, using readily available and inexpensive materials to do it. They also looked for plants that would be plentiful, resilient and efficient in the process. They wanted to be sure that the gardens could be expanded to large scale and still be affordable for communities in developing countries.

The solution came down to some pretty simple things. Styrofoam turned out to be the best idea. It floats, is cheap and readily available item that can be recycled for use as a garden bed. The best plant turned out to be the dandelion, plentiful with incredible roots.

The team set up an aquarium to test their gardens and worked throughout the school year to perfect its design. The mission folder required detailed explanations of all the steps along the way and their conclusions.

The team won the state competition and was a finalist in the regional contest which netted them $2,000 in savings bonds and earned high praise from the judges but the group did not advance to the national competition.

Despite being “bummed” that they did not advance, the team, all friends, say the experience was a worthwhile one and cemented their friendship. While they don’t appear to all be headed into the sciences as careers, they note that their project has practical, everyday implications for the quality of life no matter what they pursue.

The girls were self-starters according to Deleon and showed a natural aptitude for collaboration. He says he was surprised by the solution they came up with and always had confidence in their judgment as they went through the process.

As for the team, they described it as a “great experience that made them closer friends.”

For more information on the E Cyber Mission, go to www.ecybermission.com.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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