For a group of West Junior High School eighth-graders, the vision of the future includes microchips that can be implanted in the brain to instantly communicate with home appliances. A convenience if, for instance, you’re away from home and forgot to turn off the stove.
It also includes a world where apartment buildings made of old cargo containers spin around daily to better utilize the sun’s energy. And roadways are built with the discarded stalks of sugar cane.
These were the ideas that the team of Addison Bollaert, Caleb Ledbetter, Abby Schletzbaum, David Glauner and Noah Kenn used to shape what they believed could be the future of Baracoa, Cuba.
That vision was on display Saturday at the Kansas Union on the Kansas University campus as part of the Great Plains Region Future City Competition. More than 200 students showed off the cities they had been working on since the start of the school year.
The challenge was to create a city with affordable living units that could be used after a natural disaster or financial emergency.
The students first designed the cities using SimCity software on the computer. Then they built three-dimensional tabletop models using recycled materials, spending no more than $100.
In the case of the West Junior High School team, which placed third out of 65 teams, the vision was created using chipboard, CDs and wood scraps.
As Abby explained, the theme was to “link the past to the future” so the city’s main cathedral, market square and plaza would be preserved through the years.
When teacher Pamela Simpson came over to the group to warn them that judges had asked another group of West students about why they would want to live in their future city, Noah was ready with an answer.
“It’s awesome,” he said.
The projects are judged by volunteers who are mostly professional engineers. Saturday’s nationwide competition is a fun glimpse into the world of engineering, said Aaron Frits, Saturday’s head judge, whose day job is designing roads with the Kansas Department of Transportation.
“It gives them a better idea of what engineers actually do and how it impacts their everyday life,” Frits said.
Another Lawrence team also placed high at Saturday’s competition. A group of seven from Southwest Junior High School — Aaron Gehrke, Katie Gaches, Drew Bryant, Evan Barnes, Dylan McKee, Yihan Li and Nicholas Miller — took fourth place.
For their future city, Nueva Fortuna, Costa Rica, the group drew inspiration from Aztec pyramids to construct a circular, terraced apartment building that could house 20,000 people. The building would be made of concrete with volcanic ash, bamboo and local-source lumber. Nearby stood a solar energy collector that would rotate with the sun, like a sunflower, Katie said. Below the city, a train ran using the force of magnets.
Saturday’s winners were from Olathe’s California Trail Junior High School. That team will advance to the national competition in Washington D.C., and members will receive a scholarship to study engineering at KU or Kansas State University. The two universities will also make contributions to the schools of the top five teams.