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Students envision the future

If you could build a city of the future what would you put in it?

Last Saturday, I got a chance to see what the future might look like at the Future Cities Competition, which was held at Mount St. Mary's Academy.

This year's theme was "Fuel Your Future." Students in sixth through eighth grade create a futuristic city, choose an energy source and design a way to generate electric power for their city that does not reduce natural resources and has a limited impact on the environment.

Student teams plan and design virtual cities with SimCity4 software, build physical models with recycled materials on a budget of $100, write a solution to an engineering problem, write a narrative describing their city, and present their ideas in front of a panel of judges, all local engineers.

Out of 27 submissions from the Western New York area, 23 were chosen to compete Saturday for a chance to win $1,250 and a trip for three students, their teacher and an engineer mentor to compete in the national finals in Washington D.C.

As I walked around the gym, I saw many means of transportation, whether it was bubble cars, monorails, moving sidewalks or smart cars. I also couldn't help to notice all of the creative settings the cities were built in.

"This is Imperio, and it's built in Japan," said Jamie Tell of the Tell/Kubiak Home School in Orchard Park. "It is built in the same region that the earthquake and tsunami devastated, so we decided to rebuild the region. It still has nuclear power, but it's a safer nuclear power, nuclear fusion."

"Our whole presentation is about the Winter Olympics in Imperio in 2162 so we have ski slopes and ice skating arenas, and places for the opening and closing ceremonies," said Jamie's twin brother, Max.

I also noticed one city that was completely underwater.

"Well, in 2080 there was this worldwide pandemic and it killed off most of the population, so the [remainder] of the immune population decided to go under the water. Because global warming also was making the Earth hotter, they thought it would be cooler under the Earth's surface," said Katrina Fritzinger, a seventh-grader at Mill Middle School.

Not only were there creative settings, but also new and innovative ways to save energy.

"To keep glass out of landfills, we mix it with the concrete to create sidewalks," said Megan Rooney, an eighth-grader at St. Christopher's School in Tonawanda. "We also have lightning power. We have a whole bunch of lightning farms with rods that shoot lasers into the sky that ionizes the air and it attracts lightning and we harness that energy and use it to help the city work."

I was introduced to hydroponic farms by the students at the Alternative School for Math and Science in Corning.

"A hydroponic farm is, well, plants are usually grown on the ground, but here they are grown in water in a controlled environment ... minerally enhanced water so it acts as the soil," said seventh-grader Meghan Ritter.

Another city, called "Iles de la Paix" or "Islands of Peace," was created by the students of St. Mary's School in Swormville. Their city was located in the Thousand Islands region in upstate New York. What do they believe upstate New York would look like in the future?

According to them, it would be America's first city to become fossil-fuel free, by using hydrogen as its main energy source. By using hydroelectric turbines, they found a way to capture energy from the St. Lawrence River and designed a way to produce hydrogen gas on a mass scale by using hydrolysis. People in their city even carried around stored hydrogen in cryogenic tanks when carrying around electronic devices, which were powered by miniature hydrogen fuel cells.

"People enjoy their HiPods and HiPhones. Instead of recharging or replacing a battery, people just refuel their Hi-devices at the many hi-port stations around the city," said seventh-grader Amanda McNaultey.

So what was the best part about working on these cities?

"Definitely working together, building everything, and having fun with your friends," said Ally Dumbrowski of St. Christopher's School. "We have been working on this project since early September."

"It's great being able to combine learning about engineering and different scientific processes as well as having fun building the model with your friends," said Ben Wojick, an eighth-grader at St. Mary's of Swormville.

Not only must is it fun for the students, but according to Western New York Regional Coordinator Carlo Zavatti, it is also a way to expose these students to math and science as well as helping them apply textbook learning to real-life situations.

"It allows them to see science as a reality, and not just something that they learn from a book," says Zavatti.

After the long months of hard work and preparation, the judges chose St. Mary's of Swormville's city as the overall winner. This was their fourth consecutive victory in this competition.

Maria Patnella is a senior at Mount St. Mary Academy.


Here's a complete list of winners:

5th place finalist -- two awards -- 4th & 5th place -- St. Francis of Assisi -- Arc City

4th place finalist -- two awards -- 4th & 5th place -- Immaculate Conception School -- El Nuevo Cuidad

3rd place -- St. Christopher School -- Springfield, Fl.

2nd place -- runner-up -- Alternative School for Math and Science -- Famma/Soliel

1st Place -- overall winner -- St. Mary's Swormsville -- Illes de la Paix