Camas teens tackle toxic algae
Eager to participate in a scientific competition that would allow their team to win up to $ 9,000 in savings bonds, the two middle school students from Camas were looking for a local problem requiring a solution.
Teenagers didn’t have to look far.
The problem, said Rafa Lavagnino, 13, a seventh grader at Odyssey Middle School, was right there, in the middle of their hometown, threatening to ruin one of their favorite outdoor hangouts.
The solution? Get rid of toxic blue-green algae from Lacamas de Camas lake.
Lavagnino and his friend, Tenzin Kelsang, 13, a seventh grader at Skyridge Middle School, grew up swimming and paddleboarding in Lacamas Lake. The lake was where they hung out with friends during the summer months.
Recently, however, students had noticed something wrong at the lakeside: toxic algae blooms, which can make humans sick and kill pets, have gone from rare events to almost constant disturbance.
“A year ago, the lake was closed all summer, pretty much,” Lavagnino said. “There were only a few times it was open.”
Lavagnino and Kelsang hoped to enter the 19th annual eCYBERMISSION competition, a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program sponsored by the United States Army and the National Science Teaching Association.
To enter, the college students had to develop a solution to a real-world problem in their local community. Their solution? Invent a mobile device that could help clean up toxic algae blooms in Lacamas Lake.
Soon, the teenagers of Camas realized that their invention could have a much wider appeal.
“We thought a really local problem would be this algae problem,” Lavagnino said, “but we started to understand that it’s literally everywhere.”
Finding a solution to toxic algal blooms was never going to be an easy proposition, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put a further twist in the plans of the two young inventors.
“It took us about a year… and it was pretty remote at the start,” Kelsang said.
The students wanted to invent a mobile algae filtration system that could help clean Lake Lacamas. They experimented with filters and pumps – using solutions of sawdust and water to test the filtering abilities of the cheesecloth material and determine which types of pumps would have the ideal weight to float along the lake.
Towards the end of the project, the students were able to meet in person to test their prototypes by the lake and test other components of the mobile algae filtration system which they called an “Algaegator”.
“We first tried with amphibious vehicles, but they couldn’t push it,” Lavagnino said. “So we hooked it up to a tow rope with a kayak and it worked pretty well.”
The Algaegator filters out algae when it is still at levels considered safe for humans to swim and recreate in the lake, the students explained.
In their virtual presentations for the eCYBERMISSION competition, the students said their prototype could be scaled to help clean up algae blooms in large lakes.
Camas students presented their work to the competition judges in April. In early May, they discovered they had been named regional finalists for the Western Region, beating competitors from 10 other states in the Western United States and winning a $ 5,000 grant to improve their prototype.
“The grant will help us make it stronger, so if it gets hit by a boat or a branch, it won’t break or collapse,” Kelsang said.
Students will now take the national eCYBERMISSION competition, which will take place practically from June 21 to 25.
“The eCYBERMISSION competition is a great showcase of the creativity and passion of so many amazing students from across the country,” said Elizabeth Allan, President of the National Science Teaching Association.
Christina Weber of the US Army Educational Outreach Program called the young contestants – all in grades six to nine – “the next generation of thought leaders in science and technology.”
“It’s always exciting to see so many talented students participate in our contests, enrichment summer activities and learning programs, and to see them grow as they progress from program to program. other, ”Weber said.
As one of 20 national finalist teams chosen to participate in the next stage of the STEM competition, the Camas ‘Algaegators’ each received $ 2,000 in savings vouchers separate from the $ 5,000 STEM-in grant. -Action. Students will have the chance to win more money at the national competition in June.
Whatever the outcome of the national competition, Kelsang and Lavignino plan to share their hard work with the rest of the world.
“We want to make it an open-source design so that anyone can use it,” Kelsang said.
Kelsang and Lavagnino said they might be interested in working with the four-person teams that competition normally needs during COVID-free years.
“It would be interesting to do that again with more people,” said Lavagnino.