Christopher Columbus Awards


Laura Wilbanks
Stephanie Hallman
Christopher Columbus Awards

Project Developed by Students in Whiteface Science Rocks U in Whiteface, Texas Wins Special Chairman's Award in National Science/Community Service Competition Held at Walt ®

Students develop a fire retardant shingle to protect homes against frequent wildfires

AUBURN, N.Y. — June 14, 2013 — A team of three students from Whiteface, Texas, tackled the problem of families losing their homes due to the frequent wildfires in their area.

Students Daniel Rivas, Luke Black, Frankie Sanchez and their coach Laura Wilbanks were chosen as the winners of a special Chairman's Award in the Christopher Columbus Awards, a nationwide competition that challenges middle school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities, with each team member receiving a $500 scholarship.

The River Rangers Team Photo
Left to right: ´╗┐Coach Laura Wilbanks, Frankie Sanchez, Luke Blake and Daniel Rivas.

Wildfires are unfortunately a frequent occurrence in parts of the country. According to the team, "Rooftops are historically the first thing to catch fire when fires get out of control." Through research and experimentation, the team determined that polymers could be engineered as part of the shingles, which reduces the flammability of houses considerably and prevents the spread of fire.

The Flame On team's solution was to manufacture shingles with embedded poly-acrylate crystals to slow the spread of house fires, and use those same crystals in the fight against wildfires by adding the polymers to fire retardants already used by firefighters.

Based on the team's research, superabsorbent polymer is a material that has the ability to absorb 300 times its weight in water. This makes it extremely flame-resistant. If polymer crystals were added to shingle material of homes during manufacturing, then the roof would be more fire-resistant and protected from wildfires.

Team Wins Trip to National Championship Week in Florida

The team and coach won an all-expense-paid trip to Walt Disney World® Resort where they competed in the Christopher Columbus Awards National Championship Week and participated in the Christopher Columbus Academy, a custom-designed educational program conducted by scientists, engineers and educators. The program reveals the science and technology behind the thrills and excitement of the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Disney's Hollywood Studios.® 

Positive Community Change

The Christopher Columbus Awards challenge teams of middle school students to explore and discover opportunities for positive change in their communities using science, technology, engineering and math. The program is now in its 17th year and has attracted more than 19,000 students from diverse backgrounds all across America. The program is sponsored by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation ( and is endorsed by the Association for Middle Level Education and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Past winners have included a team from San Diego, California, that secured a provisional patent for a specialized seat cushion design that uses sensory feedback to train people to maintain a healthy posture while sitting at a computer, and a team from Gahanna, Ohio, that designed a grocery store conveyor belt that constantly sanitizes.

Countrywide Participation

The program attracts many students who may not typically enter a science competition. The Christopher Columbus Foundation believes the teamwork aspect and community focus draw a broader range of students.

About the Sponsor

The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is an independent federal government agency created by congress in 1992 to encourage and support discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind. Please visit its website at

For more information, call 800-291-6020 or visit

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