Christopher Columbus Awards: News

News – June 4, 1999

Media contacts:  Karen Baker  412-281-2345
   Bill Line, (NSF)  703-306-1070


Student Innovators Address Problems Affecting Millions of Americans

Bayer/NSF Award Winners Named, Ohio Team Wins $25,000 Columbus Foundation Grant

ORLANDO, June 4, 1999 – What do today's young people think are some of the most critical issues facing our communities, and how would they use science and technology to solve them?

Winners announced today in the Bayer/NSF Award for Community tackled real-world issues including school bus safety, relief for arthritis sufferers and threats to the food web.

The Bayer/NSF Award challenges teams of four middle school students to use science and technology to identify and develop a solution to a community issue. Bayer Corporation, the National Science Foundation, the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation and Discover Magazine developed the program to address the critical need for inquiry-based, team-oriented, community-focused experiences in science education at the middle school level. 

Prizes awarded today include $36,000 in US Savings Bonds and the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant, seed money to help one team bring its idea to life:

First Place ($20,000 in US Savings Bonds)--Eazy Zap Cap--Cold Spring Harbor High School, Cold Spring Harbor (Long Island), NY. Team Members: Nicholas Fiore, Tom Corcoran, Kunal Chawla and Greg Musso (grade 8). Coaches: Laura Lewin and Jim Franks (teachers).

When they learned approximately one in six Americans suffers from arthritis, this team of eighth-graders set out to provide some relief. Their "Eazy Zap Cap" is an ingenious device that allows arthritis sufferers and others with limited hand mobility to open child-proof containers without bending afflicted joints. 

The boys, who have been friends since kindergarten, field-tested the Eazy Zap Cap among more than 80 elderly individuals in their community and are pursuing a patent.

"We all know people who suffer from arthritis," says Nicholas Fiore. "It feels good to know we are doing something to help." "Our Bayer/NSF Award project is the first time we've invented something," adds Greg Musso. "It's a very exciting experience."

Second Place ($12,000 in US Savings Bonds)--Pak Rax--Millenium Middle School, Sanford (Orlando), Fla. Team Members: Heather Walker, Allison Giardino, Nick Marrinson and Allison Giardino (grade 6). Coach: Vera A. DeLoach (teacher).

After two school bus accidents occurred at their school this year, the team became aware of the serious safety hazards that can be created when backpacks, instrument cases, and other items block exit paths or become airborne in an accident. After deciding to enter the Bayer/NSF Award competition, the students looked to science and Newton's Law for a solution. After extensive research and testing, they invented Pak Rax, a practical and effective under-seat storage system designed to contain loose items. 

"Thousands of students across the country ride school buses every day," explains Heather Walker. "We think our idea can save many kids from serious injuries."

Third Place ($4,000 in US Savings Bonds)--S.O.S./Save our Songbirds--Antelope Crossing Middle School, Antelope Crossing, Ca. Team Members: Azeen Kazemi (grade 6), Heather Kelly (grade 7), Timea Pek (grade 6), and Carrie Humphrey (grade 6). Coach: Jo Ella Allen (teacher).

Many students--and adults--unknowingly cause environmental damage because they are unaware of the impact their behavior can have on the environment. Motivated by the Bayer/NSF Award challenge, the team discovered that lunch scraps left in their schoolyard are attracting predator birds which kill the songbirds responsible for keeping the insect population under control. A growing insect population can harm local crops. 

"When our classmates became aware that impact they were having not just on songbirds, but on the local food web as well, they started to be more careful," says Azeem Kazemi.

Columbus Foundation Community Grant (a $25,000 grant for the team to use as seed money to bring its idea to life)--"Bus Door Bust"--Hadley E. Watts Middle School, Centerville (Dayton), Ohio. Team Members: Julie Craig, Alexis Liebst, Tony Liao and Lisa Bales (grade 8). Teacher: Jenny Hines.

After a local teenager was dragged to her death when her coat string became caught in a school bus door, this determined group students set out to prevent future tragedies. The team proposes replacing rubber door linings with bristles, which allow straps, hooks and other items to pass through easily.

"With the help of the Columbus Grant, we will be working with the Department of Pupil Transportation for the Ohio Department of Education to pursue our idea," says Julie Craig. "We think the bristles are a practical, inexpensive way to retrofit the buses and save lives."

Nearly 2000 students entered the Bayer/NSF Award in the 1998-99 school year. Of those, 10 teams of four students were selected as regional finalists and won trips to compete in the National Championship at EpcotÒ at the Walt Disney World® Resort as part of the Discover Magazine Awards for Technological Innovation.

While at Epcot , 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, technicians and other innovators.

The final competition included written and oral presentations, demonstrations and interviews with a distinguished panel of six judges, including Ira Flatow, host of National Public Radio's Science Friday; Art Fry, 3-M scientist and inventor of the Post-It Note; Greg Hale, Vice President of Design and Engineering and Regulatory Compliance for Walt Disney World; Sue Swaim, executive director of the National Middle School Association; William Warren, a scientist with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) ; and Renee Anderson, director of Saturday Academy Outreach Initiative. 

Leading Scientists Impressed by Entries

"What impressed me about the Bayer/NSF Award finalist teams is that they weren't here to win a prize," says Fry. "These young people really want to serve their communities. Their ideas are important; they address real needs in a practical way." 

"The winning teams found problems that should have been staring adults in the face," adds Hale. "They took a fresh look and came up with impressive solutions."

An Opportunity Open to All Middle School Students

The Bayer/NSF Award is designed to appeal to all kinds of kids and give them a meaningful, exciting experience with science, technology and community. 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, 2000. Students, teachers, parents and community leaders can call 1-800-291-6020 or visit to receive an application and other information.