Oak Ridge Middle School LEGO Blasters, a FIRST LEGO League team in Marion, Iowa will compete for the Global Innovation Award at the state championship on January 19th at Iowa State University for their innovative solution to eutrophication in Iowa lakes.
Eutrophication is when a body of water becomes enriched with minerals and nutrients which results in an excess growth of algae.
According to the website, “FIRST LEGO League is an international program designed to get children interested an excited about science, technology and engineering. Each year there is a new challenge that engages the teams in hands-on robotics design and scientific research.” Participants range from nine to fourteen years old.
Members, Ethank Norris, Rishitha Gadde, Tanvi Gopalam, Kaleb Wesselink, Kyle Langston, Nithin John, Isaac Schneider and Nolan Carney, set out to improve recreational lakes and waterways in Iowa. Students interviewed; Iowa State University Professor, Adina Howe; Coe College Professor, Martin St. Clair; retired Linn County farmer Curt Zingula; and Morgan Hibbs, Linn County Farm Bureau Education Outreach Coordinator to learn about the conservation practices currently being used to mitigate the spread of nutrient pollution that feeds cyanobacteria.
Students learned that many of the conservation practices including; cover crops, saturated buffers, bio-reactor, etc., are expensive and difficult to get started. Many farmers are implementing conservation practices on their farms, but the students felt like more could be done.
Enter RADFarms, the student’s proposed solution. According to the Oak Ridge LEGO Blasters, RADFarms will target the two-week period right before an algal bloom is predicted. Using a DNA test designed by Professor Howe, RADFarms will be able to pinpoint when to add large numbers of microorganisms called rotifers and diatoms to the affected body of water, with the idea that the microorganisms would eat the cyanobacteria and prevent the release of microcystin toxins that cause hypoxia and dead zones.
After the cyanobacteria are consumed, the rotifer and diatom level in the waterways would fall back to normal levels because the food source would have been eliminated. The rotifers and diatoms would be bred in pools similar to a fish hatchery. The Department of Natural Resources, cities and farmers could order them to add to their affected lakes.”
Their proposed solution is designed to be targeted, inexpensive, non-invasive, and eco-friendly. It would shift the burden of nutrient pollution from farmers alone and onto taxpayers and recreational waterway users.
If Oak Ridge LEGO Blasters are nominated to continue at state, they will apply to attend the international GIA competition, which is being held at Epcot in June 2020.