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Contact: Karen Lightell, 412-281-2345; 407-292-3700 (June 28-29)


Bayer/NSF Award Winners Use Science and Technology to Address Native American Housing Shortage and Provide Low-Cost Energy Source to Impoverished Communities

ORLANDO, June 28, 2001-- Some of the nation's most innovative middle school students were named Columbus Foundation Community Grant and Bayer/NSF Award winners today for their work to develop solutions to a diverse array of community issues.

The Bayer/NSF Award is a nationwide, leading-edge program that challenges middle school students to use science and technology to solve a community problem. First, second and third place ($5,000, $3,000 and $1,000 per person in US Savings Bonds), along with the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant, are awarded at the Bayer/NSF Award National Championship at the Walt Disney WorldŽ Resort. The grant is awarded to one team as seed money to bring their idea to life.

This year's winners tackled issues both urgent and ubiquitous, developing solutions that could improve the lives of their peers and others in communities across the country and around the world:

Solving a Serious Housing Problem for the Crow Nation. A team of Native American girls from Crow Nation, MT, tapped tradition, existing resources and their own ingenuity to develop a solution to a serious local housing shortage. Straw bale construction, a once-popular building technique in which straw bales are encased in concrete for a stucco-like effect, has fallen out of favor over the years. The students, however, saw it as a promising alternative to current construction materials, and conducted extensive experiments to prove that straw bale construction can produce houses that are economical, durable, comfortable and attractive.

"We love our reservation, but there is a problem," explains eighth grader Lucretia Birdinground. "Many families do not have a home." Birdinground and her teammates, Omney Sees the Ground, Kimberly Deputee and Brenett Stewart, saw a solution in the piles of rotting straw that dot the reservation.

"We will use the Columbus Grant to build a community study room using straw bale construction demonstrate how efficient straw homes are," says Stewart. The team was coached by their teacher, Jack Joyce, who is their science teacher at Pretty Eagle Catholic School. They will work with their community partner, Peggy White of the Center Pole Foundation, to use the $25,000 grant to turn their idea into reality over the next year.

Turning Compost into an Alternative Energy Source. Rising energy costs are having an especially devastating effect on the economically disadvantaged. Four Bexley, OH, students used science and technology to develop and prove that a highly effective solution exists in the heat created by composting, earning First Place in the Bayer/NSF Award for a proposal they call "Hot Rot." They were coached by science and math teacher Jon Hood.

Like the Crow Nation team, this team of eighth-graders turned a problem into a solution. "We saw the massive amount of heat being produced by compost piles in our neighborhood," says Mike Schottenstein. "We realized that this untapped heat could be used to heat water, benefiting people all over the world."

Schottenstein and his teammates, Bexley Middle School eighth-graders Danny Marous, Kendall Leser and Raphael Arar, worked with Kurtz Brothers Composting to build a prototype compost pile with a coiled copper pipe at its core. "Our prototype consistently heated water to over 140 degrees Fahrenheit even in the coldest weather," says Leser. "This method can provide an inexpensive source of heat to people most in need, for example in Appalachia, on small farms and in Third World countries."

Already, the Bexley team is talking with the Crow Nation team about the possibility of combining their technologies.

Putting Hearing-Impaired Kids in the Game. After one of their soccer-playing classmates experienced a year-long hearing loss, four eighth-grade girls from Saddle Brook, NJ, invented a device to allow a coach to communicate quickly and effectively with hearing-impaired players on the soccer field. They won Second Place in the Bayer/NSF Award.

Saddle Brook Middle School eighth-graders Shannon Fitzgerald, Kara Naegley and Lara Terminiello's "Illumacoach" uses a lighted display and vibrates, allowing the soccer coach to send concise messages. "We've filed our patent application," explains Naegley, whose team tested their prototype with a deaf soccer player at a local school. "We want to open up the world of sports to all of the deaf children of the world." The team was coached by their teacher, Marilyn Hamot Ryan.

Creating Clean Smiles. It's an age-old problem that affects most children-the braces that straighten their teeth become food-traps, causing tooth decay and socially awkward situations. Winning Third Place in the Bayer/NSF Award National Championship for their work to address a problem of particular concern to their peer group were eighth graders Laura Meyer, Ann Tomasevich, Christine Hackett and Kyle Butler of Davis Drive Middle School in Apex, NC.

"Our team wanted to solve a problem that applies to us," explains Hackett. The students worked with local orthodontists and the University of North Carolina Medical School to develop a tooth brush that does a better job of cleaning teeth with braces. According to Butler, "We want to create the best toothbrush ever." The team was coached by their teacher, Christine Balga.

Scientists, Community Leaders Endorse Students' Ideas The National Championship competition included written and oral presentations, demonstrations and interviews with a distinguished panel of seven judges, including Steve Culbertson, President and CEO of Youth Service America; Dr. Max Gomez, Health and Science Editor with WNBC-TV, New York; Greg Hale, VP, Design and Engineering and Regulatory Compliance for Walt Disney World; Diana Linne, a Senior Research Engineer with NASA; Dr. James Youniss, a nationally recognized expert on youth community service with the Catholic University of America; Dr. William Warren, a research scientist with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) ; and Renee Anderson, director of Saturday Academy Outreach Initiative.

"This generation is remarkably empathetic and generous," says Culbertson, "The ability they demonstrate to link science to larger social issues is an exciting trend."

"The Hot Rot proposal features incredibly strong technology," adds Warren. "I'm very impressed by the degree to which the team considered both the science and social implications of their idea."

"The work the Crow Nation girls are doing to bring their ideas about straw bale houses to life can have far-reaching impact for rural communities such as theirs," says Culbertson. "I hope the $25,000 Columbus Grant will give this project the momentum it deserves, attracting additional interest and funding," adds Gomez.

Strong Showing for Young Female Scientists

The Bayer/NSF Award is designed to attract all kinds of kids to science, including those from groups traditionally less likely to participate. This year, 29 of the 36 Bayer/NSF Award finalists are girls. Typically 60 percent of of Bayer/NSF Award entrants are girls and 30 percent are minorities.

Nearly 2000 students entered the Bayer/NSF Award in the 2000-2001 school year. Of those, 10 teams of four students were selected as regional finalists and won trips to compete in the National Championship at Walt Disney WorldŌ Resort.

The students also participated in the Christopher Columbus Academy, a unique educational experience in which the students learn about science and technology by working side-by-side with engineers, scientists and other innovators at Walt Disney World and NASA.

An Opportunity Open to All Middle School Students

By linking science and community service, the Bayer/NSF Award provides students a leading-edge educational experience. The students use their curiosity, creativity and critical thinking skills, applying talents ranging from art and writing to science and math.

"Most competitions are geared to the top 5%," says Sue Swaim of the National Middle School Association. "The Bayer/NSF Award is a wonderful experience for students at all levels."

All students in grades 6-8 are encouraged to enter this competition, which charges no entry fee. Teams do not have to be school-based.

Entries for next year are due January 31, 2002. Students, teachers, parents and community leaders can call 1-800-291-6020 or visit to receive an application and other information.