Eudora, Tonganoxie high school teams looking for votes in finals of science competition

Eudora High School student Emily Hull is part of a team that designed a sustainability home project titled Living

Eudora High School senior Emily Hull has plans to modify Union Station in Kansas City, Mo.

To realize her plan, Emily and two EHS teammates need to win the Battle of the Brains engineering and science competition, which Science City at Union Station and the firm Burns & McDonnell are sponsoring.

Emily and teammates sophomore Benton Posch and junior Taylor Schmidt have already made strides toward that goal. Last Thursday, it was announced the EHS team’s “Living the Green Dream” project was selected from more than 820 entries to be one of 20 finalists in the competition open to high schools in 14 Kansas and Missouri counties in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Teams were asked to present videos of a 2-foot-by-18-inch exhibit that would be displayed in Science City should they win the competition.

“Our exhibit centers on a model house that brings together sustainable living principles,” Emily said. “The cool thing about our exhibit is that it actually runs off an exterior solar grid. Our plan is to actually put a solar panel on Union Station and use that to run the exhibit.”

The team’s fate is now in the hands of voters, who can cast votes online at Joining the Eudora team in the competition’s top 20 is a team from Tonganoxie High School.

This is the third time Emily has entered the competition, which is offered every two years, she said. She first entered in her eighth-grade year with a project that was “about too many things,” she said. She learned to edit her focus and entered a project as a sophomore on simple machines.

“That was the subject of the entry that won, actually,” she said. “I suppose they did it better.”

The two past entries gave her insight into what judges were looking for as she and Benton researched the project and built the model and Taylor shot and edited the video, Emily said.

The Eudora High School team's model for Living the Green Dream.

“We had a lot of fun,” she said. “We had a lot of late nights working on the model and video, but the three of us are really great friends, so it was a blast working together.”

The team’s exhibit doesn’t just sit on a table but engages viewers, Emily said.

“That was a main part of the design — how people interact with the exhibit,” she said.

She explained that viewers can change the setup to find the most efficient angle of sunlight on the solar panels.

“Instead of just having a board on a wall they can read, we let them find out by doing it themselves,” she said.

Viewers can vote for their favorite project by visiting the Battle of the Brains website and clicking on the “cast your vote” link. One vote per email account is allowed per day until voting ends Friday, said EHS extended learning teacher Barbie Hartwell. That puts the EHS team at a disadvantage against some of the larger top 20 schools, such as past winner Olathe North, she said. The EHS team also has to overcome this week’s school vacation that doesn’t allow it to have activities to encourage student voting, she said.

That wasn’t a problem Monday at Tonganoxie High School. Team members Jared Bothwell, Adrian Cullen, Adam DeMaranville, Alex Falk, Ahren Gann, Alan Hinds, Payton Lynn, Blake Phillips, Ethan Sandburg, Sierra Staatz, Alex Tucker and Jacob Widhalm were busy brainstorming ways to encourage voting at a Monday evening winter sports kickoff event, said Kirsten Rhoads, THS science teacher.

“We’re extremely excited to make the top 20 our first time out in the competition,” she said. “That says a lot about these kids.”

The THS team’s “City of Lights” entry is a scientific exploration of light, Rhoads said. It has several interactive elements, one of which allows viewers to direct a laser through a maze using mirrors. When the laser beam hits the target, facts about the history and uses of laser light are revealed. The exhibit explains what light reveals about the chemistry of planets and stars and demonstrates the interaction of light and elements to produce different colors in gas-filled tubes, she said.

By their selection to the competition’s top 20, the EHS and THS teams each won $2,500 science education grants for their schools. Burns & McDonnell and Science City will reveal the contest’s top five teams and the grand prize winner on Nov. 30, Rhoads said; additional grants will be awarded to the top five teams, with the winning team earning $50,000 for its school.

Her team has suggestions about how EHS should use any money it wins, including helping with Scholars Bowl and Science Olympiad teams, Emily said. Although she has been involved with science and engineering competitions throughout high school, she plans to study business when she starts classes next fall at the University of Kansas, she said.

“I was going to study engineering but decided business was a better fit for me,” she said. “Even though I love engineering, it just so happens I love business more.”