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Looking to cities of the future

"The mission of the National Engineers Week Future Cities Competition is to provide a fun and exciting educational engineering program for seventh- and eighth-grade students that combines a stimulating engineering challenge with a 'hands-on' application to present their vision of a city of the future."

Seventh- and eighth-graders from 26 schools brought their versions of a "city of the future" to Saturday's regional National Engineers Week Future Cities Competition at Mount St. Mary Academy in Kenmore.

Participants (teams of usually five to 10 kids) use their skills in math, science and writing as well as learning about engineering and urban planning to create a city set in the future. This year's focus was fuel cells, a process of converting hydrogen and oxygen into water used for power; or energy-saving techniques developed to power the cities, some of which included solar panels and windmills.

Students also had to consider things like city revenue, transportation, safety and pollution in designing the cities. The competition is in three parts. First, teams develop their cities on the computer using the program SimCity 3000. Using these blueprints, they then construct a scale model. Each team must then write an essay about their city and how it fits the theme. On competition day, the models are displayed and the finalists give presentations to a panel of judges.

"The model is the most fun," said Emily Scidi of Transit Middle School. "It's a lot of planning, but you can be creative and do whatever you want." Sarah Broxup of St. Leo the Great agreed. "The computer model took a month, it was my least favorite part. Building the model was the best part."

The models are most typically made from recycled materials such as boxes, cans and bottles. "We made our model from recycled materials," said Matthew Dee of Transit Middle. "We had to eat a lot of mac and cheese for the boxes."

While the cities were all different, there were some similar themes. Underground power-lines and power sources were included in a majority of the cities, clearly inspired by the October snowstorm.

Believe it or not, one similarity between three of the entries was a person: Jason Pominville of the Buffalo Sabres. Three teams entered cities named "Pominville," and the entry from St. Peter's Catholic School even had such landmarks as "The Afinogenov Fuel Cell Plant," "Briere Air," "Campbell Ultimate Solar Facility" and "Miller Hydroponics."
"Purus," the city designed by a team from Nativity of Our Lord School in Orchard Park, led by Stephanie Houser, Max Patterson and Rachel Bellis, won the grand prize -- a trip to Washington, D.C., to represent the region in national competition.
Second prize went to "Yellow Submarine" from Lewiston-Porter Middle School presented by students Natalie Bock, Rebecca Forney and Rebecca Berg. Third place went to a team from Alternate School for Math & Science in Corning.
Other awards included: Computer Design Award (St. Mary's of Swormville), Best Essay (Notre Dame Academy), Best Bridge Design (St. Christopher School), Best Model (Buffalo Engineering Awareness for Minorities) and Spirit Award (Mill Middle).

Rachel Gruber is a senior at Mount St. Mary Academy.

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