OC Students Vying for $25K Prize in Science Competition

The Lake Forest eighth-graders designed a system using corn meal instead of commercial pesticides to ward off an ant invasion.

ABCD team Zach Hill, Caleb Dodd, Advisor Andi Suter, Jackson Machesky and Dylan Chao. Courtesy photo.
ABCD team Zach Hill, Caleb Dodd, Advisor Andi Suter, Jackson Machesky and Dylan Chao. Courtesy photo.

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.

Brainwashed_In_Church June 12, 2014 at 05:10 PM
They're probably the smart kids in the class. The kids that will end up at UCLA or Georgia Tech or Purdue, etc. They'll get EE or other STEM degrees and earn high GPAs, and probably even get masters (maybe their employer will pay for it). Still their next door neighbor, the king kegger frat boy with the 2.3 in sociology from rinky-dink state, will make twice as much as they will as a Sales weasel.
Doug Matthews June 13, 2014 at 09:11 AM
Wow. You sound very bitter. Good luck to the kids though.
InformedParent June 12, 2014 at 06:08 PM
Good for them! I wish them luck.
mOmO123 June 13, 2014 at 10:04 AM
Good Luck Kiddos! Its nice to hear something good about the students going to Serrano for once
PortolaHillsParent June 16, 2014 at 12:21 PM
Andi Suter is just one of the many great things about Serrano. Congratulations to her and these talented students.


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