Imagining the future with STEM

"Hydropolis' takes third place in contest

LONDONDERRY — It's the day they look forward to all year. The annual Future City competition in Albany, N.Y.

Twelve students in the Flood Brook school Future City club returned last month with a third place prize in the regional competition. They finished one point behind second place and five points behind the winner, New Lebanon Jr/Sr High School, which has placed first three years in a row .

Flood Brook is the only school in Vermont that competes, and one of the smaller schools — about 90 students in the middle school, teacher Charlie Herzog said. New Lebanon has about 600 to 700 students.

The Flood Brook Future City club consists of Lola Herzog, Grace DiStasio, Devan Kajah, Rowan Perry, Summer Murphy, Piper Chapman, Alexis Seymour, Taylor Jarvis, Skylar Dryden, Keegan Ewens, Jenna Parker, and Markie Matuscik.

"We design a future city — something that's sustainable for our future," Skylar Dryden said, "because our future isn't looking too great with all this stuff we've got going on. They have different goals for us every year. This year was the power of public space."

Last year it was waste management.

Since first going to the competition four years ago, the club has improved from seventh to sixth to fifth and this year third place.

Students began the planning process for their futuristic city — "Hydropolis" — at the start of the school year. They must complete four sections — a 1,500 word essay, virtual city, presentation and physical model.

Parents Laurie DiStasio and Gail Herzog volunteered their time to help, as well as engineer Jay Reichman from Chroma Technology Corp in Bellows Falls.

The first two sections were started in September and the presentation and modeling started around Christmas break. The students said a lot of pressure is put on the presentation, which is limited to seven minutes.

"Competition day is like my favorite day throughout the entire school year," Dryden said. "It's something to look forward to."

Others said the energy and atmosphere is positive and other students are "so nice." They also agreed that the theatre in which the competition is held is beautiful, and they enjoy the road trip.

Hydropolis was created based on two abandoned islands off Nagasaki, Japan — Hashima, 16 acres, and Takashima, 330 acres.

Hashima was known for its undersea coal mines, established in 1887. In 1974 the reserves declined and once the mine closed, residents abandoned the island. That history fueled the students' presentation skit — a coal miner returning back to the island to see its new environment.

A highlight of the city is that there's nearly no pollution because there isn't enough space to have land grazing animals. Undersea jellyfish pods were created where fish, fruit and vegetables are farmed.

The city was constructed out of recycled material including painted pistachio shells, cardboard and a spray painted space landscape for the background. A $100 budget paid for material such as fake moss to cover a majority of the city ground.

"You have to research all the different technology you should use in your city and write and essay about it," Grace DiStasio said. "You also had to write about the problem for this year, which was public spaces. So how did you find innovative and technologically advanced ways to fix the problems that your city had with public spaces."

The city was required to have a moving part. Hydropolis originally had a paper windmill, but the students decided to add a bullet train with the use of a magnet, two days before competition.

"We were kind of embarrassed about that [paper windmills]," DiStasio said. "But it worked."

"About two days before competition we were tying up loose ends and the girls came up to me to say they weren't happy with the moving part," Herzog said. "I understood why they weren't. They wanted to install another moving part and after a brief moment of panic on my part, I said `Okay, let's try it.'"

Future City is a part of 38 regional competitions that take place across the country. It's spearheaded by science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) educators and engineers through real-world applications. Future City has existed for 25 years and 16 years in Albany. It welcomes over 80 corporate sponsors, 100 volunteers and more than 250 students each year, according to the competition site.

The competition targets middle schoolers and is a part DiscoverE, formerly known as the National Engineers Week Foundation — founded in 1951 and one of America's oldest professional outreach efforts.

Reach staff writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471 or @MC_McGeeney.


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