By TIM WORDEN
City News Service
Four Lake Forest eighth-graders who designed an inexpensive and less toxic alternative to a commercial pesticide will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to compete in the 12th annual Army-sponsored eCybermission science competition national finals.
The Serrano Intermediate School team of four boys is among four vying for the national title and a $25,000 prize, which is to be used, in part, to implement a grant proposal. Team ABCD is comprised of Dylan Chao, Caleb Dodd, Zach Hill and Jackson Machesky.
The four designed a system of using corn meal as an alternative to household ant killers to be used to fight off an Argentine black ant invasion affecting Orange County homes and agriculture, their teacher, Andi Suter, said.
"They hypothesized that when the ants eat the corn meal, it does something weird to their digestive systems, so they (learn to) avoid it," Suter said.
The team will present its research to eCybermission judges at the finals, which start Monday and continue through Friday at the National Conference Center just outside the capital, Suter said.
While in Washington, the team will also meet with Rep. John Campbell, R- Irvine.
Suter, who has used the Army's science, technology and engineering curriculum in her honors physical science classes for the past three years, said she teaches her students how to work in the real world, letting them contact local experts, read the scientific literature and write a grant proposal.
"I let them fail. It's huge on their problem-solving (skills)," Suter said. "It's huge on team-building to let them figure it out."
The hands-on program also teaches students teamwork and time management, she added.
"They see the whole picture, they see how the writing and the math go along with the science," Suter said.
If selected as the winner, the team expects to implement a grant proposal to test the pesticide alternative in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District and surrounding community, Suter said.
The competition, put on by the Army's Educational Outreach Program and the National Science Teachers Association, is aimed at encouraging middle school students to develop solutions to real-world challenges in their communities, according to the Army.