Missouri middle schoolers compete to design an electrified city of the future
Engineers all over the world are working on how to build a sustainable city of the future that solves current and future problems while meeting the needs of a modern society.
This past weekend, junior high school students from around Missouri presented their models and ideas to a panel of judges in Rolla.
The Future City competition is an annual nationwide event that challenges sixth through eighth graders to design a city of the future. Each state holds a contest to choose the 50 finalists to compete at the national level. Each year there is a slight twist on the premise.
This year’s challenge was to design a 100% electrically powered city with energy generated from sources that keep their citizens and the environment healthy and safe.
“We decided that we were going to use hydroelectric power and geothermal energy because we have a river,” said Sebastian Turley, a seventh grader at St. Clair Junior High in St. Clair, describing his team’s project, Die Grune Stadt — German for “the green city.”
“We can use those energy sources and make an interconnected power grid and connect everything together into one electricity source all together,” he said.
The team from St. Clair won the Missouri competition hosted by the Kaleidoscope Discovery Center and held at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. It will represent the state in Washington, D.C., at the national competition next month.
“I am amazed that we even got this opportunity to just go in and do stuff and we won. It's so exciting,” said seventh grader Carson Flora, moments after his team was announced as the winner. “I can't put it into words. I can't believe we're going to D.C.”
While the theme was electrifying a city, teams came up with a variety of ways that power could be generated.
The team from Sullivan Middle School opted for solar power in its city, Aquila, envisioning a collection of mirrors that would all focus the sun’s rays at the top of a structure it calls the Solar Power Tower.
“The sun hits the mirrors, and it goes up and heats up the Solar Power Tower, the steam created by heating salt water goes to the base, which spins a turbine connected to a generator, which flows throughout the city,” said Savannah Embry, a Sullivan seventh grader.
The options for power generation included advanced versions of current technology like solar and hydroelectric, as well as those that have yet to be discovered, like nuclear fusion.
“It's basically the miracle energy source. Like nuclear fission, it produces an absurd amount of energy from just a little bit of fuel,” said Phillip White, an eighth grader from Senn-Thomas Middle School, describing the power source for his school’s city, Framtidens. “But unlike it, there's no chance of any meltdown, there's no toxic waste involved, and we can get the fuel from just water.”
The design competition, which involves writing an essay, building a model and presenting it to judges, includes evaluation on the entire proposed city’s operation.
That gives students the opportunity to imagine new ways of designing things like transportation systems.
“Our city, called Electri City, features O.O.P.L.E.S. It stands for operational one passenger lorry electric system,” said Gage Pryor, a seventh grader at Versailles Middle School. “They are powered by electromagnetic rails in the roads, and they will travel throughout those around the city, going through our residential, shopping and entertainment areas.”
One of the goals of the Future City competition is to build interest among middle schoolers in career paths in science, technology, engineering and math fields, and the program tries to expand on what students learn in the classroom.
“I think it's really key for them to look at how what they're learning now in math, science, chemistry, biology and some properties in physics can all be integrated into something that is real is implemented on a citywide scale,” said Joel Burken, chair of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at Missouri S&T and one of the judges.
While many of the students say they want to pursue careers in engineering, architecture and sciences, the goal isn’t universal, and Burken said the competition considers that.
“This isn't just about who can build a better building. It's about who can make a better community. We specifically ask: 'What's the culture of the city? What's the diversity of the population?' And we actually ask, 'What is the art component of the city?'” Burken said.
Isis Zurovec, 13, a home-schooled student in Rolla, said she wants to be a therapist or a dancer when she grows up. But she also said working on Nisi Skoupidion with her friends taught her lessons that will apply to her future.
“It definitely teaches you how to work with people, because no matter what you're doing, you're always working with people,” Zurovec said. “It's helping me communicate and be able to make sure everybody's on the same page about everything.”
While the St. Clair team is headed to Washington, D.C., next month for the national competition, changes in the Future City program in Missouri are in store for next year. The state is one of 10 in the nation that will pilot a high school version of the contest.
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