HUNTERDON Students Enriched by Future City Competition

Readington Middle School students (from left) Jacob Walton, Luke Barckholtz, and Patrick Hanrahan prepare to answer questions from judges at the 2016 New Jersey Future City Competition held at Rutgers on January 16th.

Seventy-seven teams of middle school students from throughout New Jersey met this past weekend to present their solutions to a solid waste management problem for a futuristic city they created in a 2016 Future City Regional Competition held at Rutgers University.  Readington Middle School students Luke Barckholtz, Patrick Hanrahan, and Jacob Walton first started brainstorming their solution to the “Waste Not, Want Not” theme after meeting with ExxonMobil microbiologist Dr. Zara Summers, who introduced the team to the process of anaerobic digestion, in which bacteria are used to convert organic waste into biogas in the absence of oxygen.

The team of eighth grade students, advised at Readington Middle School by Quest teacher Emily Bengels, decided to employ an in-residence tube solution for waste collection and projected a waste-management solution where nearly all waste would be reclaimed.  The team took apart an old computer monitor to identify how their futuristic city would address the growing problem of e-waste.  They named their twenty-second century city Kichi-Basho, which means “resourceful place” in Japanese, as they decided to locate their new city on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido.

In building a futuristic city, teams not only consider the theme of the competition, but also consider future solutions to power generation, transportation, food supply, disaster consideration, etc. as they create their city.  The students design both a virtual city using SimCity™ software and write a city description about their city design and unique solutions to the waste management theme.

Readington Middle School Team Kichi-Basho also traveled to meet with Princeton University Director of Engineering Ted Borer, who gave them a tour of the sustainable practices employed on campus.   The team learned that a modified jet engine turbine was the first in the world to burn bio-diesel fuel and that Princeton University was able to increase the efficiency of their power plant by recovering what is normally “waste” heat and using it to heat water to make steam for the turbines in a process called cogeneration.  Armed with a better understanding of today’s power generation, the team also researched different energy solutions for the future and chose to power their city through geothermal energy accessed by drilling into the earth and transferring the heat energy to the surface using graphene, a new carbon structure, and then converting it to electrical energy.  The team also used the biogas generated from organic waste as a secondary source of energy for their city.

Team Kichi-Basho devoted countless hours, with the majority of those hours being logged while most students were enjoying their winter holiday break, as they constructed a tabletop-sized physical model of their city using mostly recycled materials and wrote their project plan and city narrative.  As the team prepared for competition day, they also prepared an oral presentation to pitch their created city to judges.

Team member Jacob Walton expressed that he welcomed competition day because he “felt a sense of completion because we have worked so hard and we finally got to present today”.  Luke Barckholtz shared that throughout their preparation “they learned to work as a team” and they also learned that “if you are going to do something, do it well”.

The regional Future City competition day also provided a schedule full of enriching opportunities for the future engineers.  The favorite for the Readington Middle School students was the opportunity to learn about “Engineers without Borders”.   A group of engineering students from Rowan University shared the opportunities that Engineers without Borders has to make a difference in other countries and challenged the middle school students to develop a filtration system to clean dirty water.  The students embraced this hands-on challenge, and Team Kichi-Basho was proud to boast a filtration system that netted the cleanest looking water of the day!

When asked if the Future City competition day was worth missing his basketball games, team member Patrick Hanrahan enthusiastically answered, “Yes!  Because this is what I want to do with my life.  I hope to be an engineer.”  RMS students Barckholtz, Hanrahan, and Walton gained much from the Future city project as they learned what it took to work together as a team, to overcome challenges, to work toward a goal, and to work toward excellence.  Their efforts were rewarded at the 2016 Future City New Jersey Competition as they were recognized with placing ninth in the state.