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Two SODA students, Gianna Nilvo and Porter Hassel-Wells, present winning research and prototype during the 2022 Governor’s STEM challenge. Also on the team, but not pictured, is SODA ninth-grader Brody Brown.

A School of Dreams Academy STEM team won the 2022 New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge.

The team’s research was looking at how common chemicals used in various products impact the environment by contaminating water sources, and, in some cases, find their way into human bodies.

The team created a working prototype used a pH probe to determine when common chemicals were poured into a drain, then diverting the contaminated liquid into a holding tank 100 percent of the time.

“The hypothesis for this engineering design was if a pH probe indicator was coded and placed into the drainage pipes of a sink system, then a valve will be signaled to close when a pH is indicated (of less than or equal to) 7, rerouting the acidic liquids,” SODA STEM teacher Jennifer Nilvo wrote in a release.

The winning team engineered the prototype using an Arduino, a hardware development board, to code the pH probe and motorized ball valve to act when chemicals are poured down the drain. Nilvo said 80 percent of the acidic chemicals were diverted into the holding tank during testing.

The acidic chemical-laden liquid within the holding tank could then be denatured and repurposed in other useful products such as biocleaners or biofuels.

“Today, the adequate supply of uncontaminated groundwater and water coming from wastewater going back into surface and ground water is crucial for the health of our New Mexico families, but also for the growth of agriculture production and cutting-edge industry in New Mexico,” Nilvo said.

The team, Team Bio Bodies, was led by Nilvo and consisted of three SODA students — 11th grader Gianna Nilvo, and ninth-graders Porter Hassel-Wells and Brody Brown. The achievement came with a $5,000 prize for the students as well at a $500 prize for the sponsoring teacher.

This year’s Governor’s STEM Challenge implored students to solve the question: Imagine New Mexico as a state known for sustainable and green manufacturing. What innovations or development could be produced to foster our schools, jobs and communities.

The team then had to solve, design, engineer and build a working prototype for testing.

The STEM Challenge garnered 27 different STEM industry partners from around the state, including Los Alamos National Labs, Chevron, Sandia Labs, Virgin Galactic, Boeing, Meta, Molina and Presbyterian.

Nilvo said some of the team members will go on to present at the upcoming Central New Mexico Regional Research Challenge for spots to State and Regeneron ISEF, Junior Science and Humanities Symposia for a spot to National JSHS, and Central NM Junior Academy of Science for a spot to state starting in February 2023.  

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The Valencia County News-Bulletin is a locally owned and operated community newspaper, dedicated to serving Valencia County since 1910 through the highest journalistic and professional business standards. The VCNB is published weekly on Thursdays, including holidays both in print and online.