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October 21, 2014

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Local middle schoolers invent pollen neutralizing pocket

Hyde Park sixth- and seventh-graders to compete in national science competition

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Paul Takahashi

Hyde Park Middle School sixth-graders Craig Hammond, 11, and Pranathi Tallapragada, 11, look over their invention, which alerts parents to children left in unattended cars. The students will represent Nevada in the national eCybermission competition June 20.

Hyde Park competes in eCybermission

Hyde Park Middle School seventh graders (l-r) Moulin Patel, 13; Ashish Kalakuntla, 12; Anik Patel, 12; and Vidhu Ramakrishnan, 12; look over their invention, which neutralizes pollen, on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The students will represent Nevada in the national eCybermission competition on June 20. Launch slideshow »

For all the talk about attracting entrepreneurs to Southern Nevada, students at one Clark County middle school are proving that great business ideas can be grown right here in Las Vegas.

Seven Hyde Park Middle School students will head to Washington, D.C., next week to represent Nevada in a national science competition, showcasing inventions as sophisticated as an ion-wielding allergy deterrent and a motion-sensing system meant to keep kids from dying in hot cars.

For the past 12 years, the eCybermission competition has challenged students across the country to create inventions that address real-world problems in their communities. Organized by the U.S. Army and the National Science Teachers Association, eCybermission attracts some of the nation’s brightest students to compete for $5,000 scholarships.

Hyde Park’s seventh-grade team — called Neurosteins 2.0 — developed a patch that attaches to a shirt pocket and releases ions to destroy pollen and provide relief for allergy-sufferers.

Students Ashish Kalakuntla, Anik Patel, Moulin Patel and Vidhushan Ramakrishnan spent nearly 50 hours creating several prototypes of their pollen-killing device. After a month of research and development, they settled on a simple, yet effective $10 invention that uses special paint and ultraviolet light to neutralize pollen.

The 12- and 13-year-olds decided to tackle this problem because three members of the team suffer from pollen allergies. Americans lose 4 million work days each year due to allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and the kids hope their product will help reduce that.

“Last year, I had to quit soccer because I had to take inhaled steroids,” said Kalakuntla, 12. “We want to help people who are suffering from this.”

Hyde Park’s sixth-grade team — NANOS, which stands for Nerdy, Amazing, Neat, Outstanding Students — invented a notification system that prevents parents from accidentally leaving their children behind in parked cars. Last year, 44 U.S. children died after being left in cars, according to advocacy group KidsAndCars.org.

Craig Hammond, Pranathi Tallapragada and Katie Wiesner came up with their idea after hearing about the issue in the news.

“A car in 80-degree temperatures can heat up to deadly levels in 10 minutes,” said Hammond, 11. “Children are slowly cooked to death.”

To prevent these tragedies, the team of 11- and 12-year-olds brainstormed ways to improve on current notification systems, which require frequent resetting and don’t take into account children who might sneak into unattended vehicles.

They ultimately came up with a $150 machine that uses several motion and pressure sensors to detect when the driver leaves the vehicle and when a child crawls into the car. Using a small computer and a cellphone’s SIM card, the device immediately texts the driver with reminders and sounds an alarm if it senses an unattended child in the car.

Hyde Park is used to fielding students for major academic competitions, from the National Science Bowl to the VEX world robotics competition. But this is the first time the school is sending students to eCybermission since 1998.

In fact, not only is this the first time Hyde Park is sending students to nationals, it’s also only one of only two schools in the country fielding two teams of students this year. Just 20 teams are chosen to compete at nationals each year.

“It’s a tribute to our staff, our kids and our families and the tremendous amount of work they put in,” said Karen Waggoner, Hyde Park’s magnet coordinator. “This competition takes a tremendous amount of dedication.”

Hyde Park science teacher Edward Patricks said he was impressed by his students’ projects. Regardless of the competition’s outcome next week, the educator of 33 years hopes he has instilled a love of science and technology in these students, who just might grow up to lead the next Zappos or Switch in Las Vegas.

“Science is difficult to teach, but if they’re active in their learning, it becomes more powerful and enjoyable,” Patricks said. “Going to (eCybermission) nationals is something I’ve been hoping for my students for a long time.”

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