Toshiba and the NSTA today announced eight national winners of the 29th annual Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision challenge, the world’s largest K-12 science competition. This year’s winners have shared innovative proposals to help overcome some of the greatest challenges facing the world today, from healthcare challenges to sustainability efforts to energy efficiency.
The Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision challenge is designed to help students develop the skills emphasized in the Next Generation Science Standards, including problem-solving, critical-thinking and collaboration skills. To participate, students must imagine and produce a system or a technology with the potential to solve the problems of the future. Regional finalist ideas were judged by a multidisciplinary panelist of scientists across various sectors of government (e.g. NIH, NASA, NSF), academic researchers, biotechnology scientists and physician researchers.
“For 29 consecutive years, students across the U.S. and Canada have demonstrated creativity, passion and intelligence while coming up with new and innovative solutions to some of the world’s biggest, most critical issues,” said Ms. Ayumi Wada, Chairwoman & CEO, Toshiba America, Inc. “We are proud to announce the winners of the 29th annual ExploraVision challenge. These students – with the support of their coaches, mentors, family and friends – are pushing the boundaries of modern science and we are continually inspired by their commitment to making the world a better place.”
“During an especially challenging year, these students showed dedication and ingenuity in developing new solutions and technologies with the potential to improve the world around them,” said Dr. Elizabeth Allan, NSTA President. “We congratulate all of this year’s national winning teams and look forward to celebrating their accomplishments during our virtual awards ceremony this summer.”
The eight winning projects of the 29th Annual ExploraVision challenge reflect impressive ideas ranging from AI-powered toothbrushes that can detect viruses, to eco-friendly diapers that reduce carbon emissions.
Medical Treatment and Health Innovations
During a year dominated by a global pandemic, it is appropriate that a major theme among this year’s submissions and winning teams’ projects focuses on the detection of viruses, and prevention and treatment of illnesses.
A team of second graders from Lockwood Elementary in Washington state developed “The Toothbrush of the Future,” which would use a camera, sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) to carry out a wide range of health tasks – from identifying the presence of viruses, such as Covid-19, to detecting if the user had cavities.
Another team made up of third graders from Hawthorn Elementary South in Vernon Hills, Ill., realized that the Covid-19 pandemic may cause an increase of lung diseases globally, especially in patients with respiratory problems, thereby increasing the need for lung transplants. They developed a method to grow healthy human lungs from the patients’ own bone marrow stem cells. The stem cells would be grown into healthy “mini lungs” and depending on the level of damage, a supporting biodegradable artificial micro-pump could be added during transplant to support the patient’s respiration until their new lungs can function independently.
Sustainability and Ecosystem Preservation
Climate change poses a major threat to global water supply, natural systems and our overall livelihoods. Building on important conversations around climate and natural resource preservation, several of this year’s winning projects suggested innovative solutions to help preserve natural ecosystems, breakdown microplastics, and reduce carbon emissions and landfill waste.
One team of fifth graders from Open Window School in Bellevue, Wash. proposed a new approach to water filtration with the goal of providing safe drinking water to the more than two billion people worldwide that currently draw drinking water from contaminated sources. The “Coagulation Filtration System” (CFS) is a solar-powered, portable water filtration system that removes ecosystem-damaging microplastics from water through the employment of plastic-eating microbes. Using the processes of coagulation, flocculation, and sedimentation, the CFS could be easily and quickly employed in settings ranging from disaster areas to our own homes, ensuring quick access to safe, efficient, and sustainable drinking water for people everywhere.
A team of fifth and sixth graders from A.D. Henderson University School in Boca Raton, Fla. developed the “BioBot Super Enzyme,” which would rapidly break down plastic collected from rivers and oceans, converting it into micronutrients for the ecosystem. The “BioBot” would be contained in an “Interceptor” using AI and drone technology, solar panels, and supercomputers to manage the enzymes and their containment. Additionally, the “BioBot Tracker App” would allow scientists to track the Interceptor’s progress in real-time.
Another project from a team of 10th graders from William Lyon Mackenzie C.I. in Toronto, Ontario tackled two issues surrounding climate change: carbon emissions and landfills. They proposed using carbon capturing mycelium as a way to fuel the creation of more eco-friendly diapers. The eco-friendly diapers would decompose faster and easier, while emitting less methane than typical disposable diapers, and the factory used to grow its absorbent material would prevent carbon from polluting the air.
A team made up of ninth graders from University of Illinois Laboratory High School in Urbana, Ill. developed the “Degrade-a-Pad” – a degradation system that would quickly degrade a sanitary napkin into lactic acid and glucose using enzymes in a toilet tank-compartment, allowing it to be safely flushed into the sewer system to reduce plastic in landfills. In North America alone, around 12 billion menstrual pads are deposited into landfills every year. The “Degrade-a-Pad” aims to push menstrual product disposal towards a sustainable and convenient future by eliminating plastic waste created from menstrual pads and providing safe, chemical-free menstrual pads for users.
Lastly, a team of 10th graders from Bob Jones High School in Madison, Ala. observed that honeybees, one of the significant contributors of pollination in our ecosystem, are declining due to widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides. To combat this, they developed a novel peptide and bacteria-based dual targeting system to mitigate the pesticide’s effects. Their autonomous solution uses machine learning and AI to identify crops, select the precise location for pesticide neutralization and selectively dispense an optimized concentration of formulas to neutralize the pesticides – leading to a healthy and sustainable honeybee population.
Energy Efficiency and Green Power
As technology innovations make space exploration more commonplace, one team sought to reduce the cost and emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) for rocket launches.
A group of eighth graders from Marlboro Memorial Middle School from Morganville, N.J. developed the “Mag-Launcher,” an innovative, reusable electromagnetic repulsion system designed to reduce the cost of launching rockets and advance space exploration while causing minimal harm to the environment. Rather than using fuel to create thrust, the “Mag-Launcher” relies on electromagnets to accelerate a rocket to high speeds. By replacing the need for a first-stage booster, fuel costs and GHG emissions would be reduced dramatically.
The eight national winning teams are comprised of a first-place winner and second-place winner from four groups based on grade level. Members of first place nationally winning teams each receive a $10,000 U.S. Series EE Savings Bond (at maturity). Members of second place nationally winning teams will each receive a $5,000 U.S. Series EE Savings Bond (at maturity).
The regional and national winners of ExploraVision 2021 are invited to participate in a virtual event ceremony on Friday, June 4, during which winners will have the opportunity to showcase their winning ideas in a presentation to scientist, engineer, comedian, author and inventor, Bill Nye. The virtual event will culminate with an awards ceremony where students will be formally recognized for their creativity and accomplishments.
For 29 consecutive years, ExploraVision has helped children to expand their imagination and have fun while developing an interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education at an early age. To learn more or to register, visit https://www.exploravision.org/.
For more information or to access an application for the 2021/2022 program, visit www.exploravision.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow ExploraVision on Twitter at @ToshibaAmerica or join the ExploraVision Facebook Fan Page at www.Facebook.com/ToshibaAmerica.
Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision 2021 National Winners
2021 First-Place Winners
Grade K-3: Toothbrush of the Future
Lockwood Elementary, Bothell, Washington
Grade 4-6: Coagulation Filtration System
Open Window School, Bellevue, Washington
Grade 7-9: Mag-Launcher: Magnetic Repulsion Rocket Launcher
Marlboro Memorial Middle School, Morganville, New Jersey
Grade 10-12: Shiitake Diapers: Capturing CO Poo One Diaper at a Time
William Lyon Mackenzie C.I., Toronto, Ontario
2021 Second-Place Winners
Grade K-3: Lung Transplant Using Stem Cells
Hawthorn Elementary South, Vernon Hills, Illinois
Grade 4-6: The BioBot
A.D. Henderson University School, Boca Raton, Florida
Grade 7-9: Degrade-a-Pad
University of Illinois Laboratory High School, Urbana, Illinois
Grade 10-12: An Artificial Intelligence Based System to Neutralize Pesticides and Sustain Honey Bee Populations
Bob Jones High School, Madison, Alabama
Toshiba Corporation leads a global group of companies that combines knowledge and capabilities from over 140 years of experience in a wide range of businesses—from energy and social infrastructure to electronic devices—with world-class capabilities in information processing, digital and AI technologies. These distinctive strengths support Toshiba’s continued evolution toward becoming an Infrastructure Services Company that promotes data utilization and digitization, and one of the world’s leading cyber-physical-systems technology companies. Guided by the Basic Commitment of the Toshiba Group, “Committed to People, Committed to the Future,” Toshiba contributes to society’s positive development with services and solutions that lead to a better world. The Group and its 130,000 employees worldwide secured annual sales surpassing 3.4 trillion yen (US$31.1 billion) in fiscal year 2019.
About Toshiba America, Inc.
Founded in 1965, Toshiba America, Inc. (TAI) is a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Toshiba Corporation and the holding company of four Toshiba operating companies that offer a broad range of products and solutions for the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. The four companies, which along with TAI are known collectively as Toshiba America Group, are Toshiba America Electronic Components, Inc. (Semiconductor solutions), Toshiba America Energy Systems, Corp. (Power generation solutions), Toshiba International Corporation (Industrial, power electronics & transmission & distribution solutions) and Toshiba America Research, Inc.(R&D).
Founded in 1944, the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) is the largest organization in the world dedicated to promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. A vibrant community of 40,000 science educators and professionals, NSTA is committed to best practices in teaching science and its impact on student learning. NSTA offers high quality science resources and continuous learning so that science educators grow professionally and excel in their career. For new and experienced teachers alike, the NSTA community offers the opportunity to network with like-minded peers at the national level, connect with mentors and leading researchers, and learn from the best in the field.