STEM expo: sustainability has a central role

From April, 2017 (The Wellesley Townsman)

During the April 8 third annual STEM Expo at Wellesley High School, students and residents showcased nearly 100 exhibits covering various aspects of STEM such as robots, technology and engineering innovation, coding, environmental education, chemistry, physics, mathematics and biology. The event, run by the Wellesley Education Foundation, also featured projects and ideas promoting sustainable living in the town.

Three WHS Evolutions students who participate in a project-based learning environment exhibited the details and benefits of their aquaponics project. The students are able to grow edible lettuce through the waste goldfish produce in a tank at an accelerated rate. This cycle complements both the lettuce grown above the tank and the water and fish below it, as the plants filter out and redistribute clean water back into the fish tank.

The project is self-sustaining, nothing is wasted in the system, vegetables are grown quicker and cheaper and the students have not had to clean the tank in its two months of existence. They learned that this system can be used to feed high school students greens in a cheaper and local way.

“This has been the most-engaging project for me the entire year,” student Allison McDougall said. “I really liked the idea that it can be any size that you want. I loved learning about the entire process, and I love how it’s a self-sustaining thing that I got to take care of.”

Aaron Hanson, who also worked on the project, found meaning in creating an aquaponics system that could help the school.

“I knew that all the work we were doing could end up being used for the school and the town as a whole. It motivated me to get this work done well so that everybody could benefit,” he said.

Middle school students did a similar project, as three different Design and Technology classes used the newly built greenhouse to create a sustainable system to grow the maximum quantity of high-quality greens to feed students at WMS. They used the hydroponics system, where students grew lettuce using water pumps and a reservoirs beneath the plants to nurture them.

Upon completion, the classes provided the middle school cafeteria with their lettuce in tubs labeled with their self-created logos to serve with school lunches.

“It taught me that there’s many other ways besides using soil and the ‘regular way’ to grow plants, that can really preserve resources for our planet,” middle school student Peter Yang, who helped create one of the systems, said. “It’s a really nice way to preserve water and great way of growing.”

Two other Evolutions students, Calvin Lindquist and Tommy Wasson, proposed installing solar panels on Wellesley Middle School after their research determined it would be beneficial for the school to do so. According to their research, the school generated enough carbon dioxide last year to power 64 homes.

The benefits of installing solar panels on the school would save about 7,000 thousand trees, 600 gallons of water and roughly $150,000 that would not have to be paid to the MLP for electricity, according to the students. To push for change, the students created an online petition that was available for signing during the expo.

In addition, the Natural Resources Committee had a station that offered people a chance to adopt a tree as well as a station demonstrating water pollution. By using a plastic model of a town, featuring hills, rivers, farms, homes, a factory and a golf course, people sprinkled different smaller substances around parts of the town, representing fertilizers and pesticides among others.

Then, people used spray bottles filled with water to spray the entire model, causing the substances to run off with the water into rivers and waterbeds. The end result of murky water in the water masses showed the damage the ground takes when pollutants are added to it.

“There’s evidence this is happening,” said Raina McManus, NRC member. She cited the history of nitrogen in fertilizers running off into Morses and Abbot ponds, causing the plants in the pond to grow, and ultimately choke them.

“We have to buy expensive weed harvesters for a quarter million dollars… and we have to actually harvest the weeds, take them off site, decontaminate them and then find a place to put them. It’s a really big process just because people fertilize their lawns,” McManus said.

Along with sustainability awareness and other exhibits, there were multiple workshops throughout the day educating children and adults on STEM, and MIT physics professor Edmund Bertschinger spoke on the discovery of gravitational waves from colliding black holes.

“I can’t believe how engaged people are and how many amazing exhibits we have here, so it’s been really great to see,” McManus said.

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