Teen Finalists On NASA Competition Want Clean Water In Public Schools


A team of students from Washington DC invented a device that could help provide clean water to public schools. Though they were targeted by racial attacks and hackers, they are one of eight finalists in a NASA competition.


The NASA OPSPARC Challenge is a competition wherein students from grades 3 to 12 are encouraged to use their imagination to identify useful, everyday technology from inventions that were initially created to be used in NASA missions. Students were tasked to put their Spinoff ideas into a Glogster Multimedia Poster using a combination of texts, videos, and images.

Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner, and Bria Snell of Banneker High School, the competition's only all-girl, all-black finalists, focused on the issue of impurities in public school water fountains. As such, their idea is to create a sensor that can detect impurities such as chlorine, copper, and bromine, as well as a filtration bottle that can purify and filter the water supply in a continuous cycle.

The system that the girls created is based on the 1994 technology that NASA created to develop automatic pool filters. Though they were looking at other options, the girls apparently opted for the water purification system because some of the water fountains in their school were unusable due to potential lead contamination. 

The girls are just one of eight team finalists with such creative innovations in the Grades 9-12 division of the competition.

NASA Competition Targeted By Hackers

NASA shut down the public voting competition after 4chan users targeted the girls' team because of their race. Before the public voting was closed, members of the public used social media to share their support for the team of their choice, thereby promoting science and STEM.

However, some users on 4chan attacked them solely based on their race evidently so as to ruin their chances of winning the competition. Apparently, trolls stated that the girls only got to the finals because of social media support, and that the black community was voting for them only because of their race. Some even urged other people to vote against them. Further, it came to NASA's attention that hackers attempted to manipulate the final results, and encouraged other users to download a particular software that can interfere with the voting.

Under the circumstances, NASA shut down the public voting to protect the integrity of the competition.

"Unfortunately, it was brought to NASA's attention yesterday that some members of the public used social media, not to encourage students and support STEM, but to attack a particular student team based on their race and encouraged others to disrupt the contest and manipulate the vote, and the attempt to manipulate the vote occurred shortly after those posts. NASA continues to support outreach and education for all Americans, and encourages all of our children to reach for the stars," said NASA in a statement.

A panel of NASA Goddard Judges will help determine the winners using rubrics. 

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