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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 28, 2008

Future City winners
FMS team finishes second in nation

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The future is now for a trio of Farnsworth Middle School students who just won second place in a National Engineers Week competition.

They designed a Hawaiian city named Mohala which has, among other innovative features, roads and buildings that capture the sun’s energy and a Universal Laser Network that manages voice and data communication citywide with laser technology, remote sensors, and orbiting satellites.

Each of the three seventh-graders — Kathryn Liotta, Hannah Liu, and Brien Miceli — put in 400 hours of work, said enrichment teacher Deborah Escobar.

Each had strengths, which the others complemented, said Escobar. Liotta, for example, is "one of the best at modeling I’ve ever had," said Escobar. "She can take a bottle and see how it can be a building."

Miceli worked with the SimCity computerized design program to create infrastructure like sewer and road systems.

"I learned a lot about engineering and how it’s integrated into real life and how a city can benefit from it," said Miceli. The Farnsworth score for the SimCity portion of the competition was 79.25 out of 80.

Liu took the lead with research and writing. "Before this," Liu said, "I was uncomfortable meeting new people and talking to them."

She liked the way the team members worked together. Speaking of last week’s competition in Washington, D.C., Liu said, "We had minor errors but we were able to cover up for each other. Basically, we worked as a team, boosting each other up."

Escobar said that, from the start, the three students hashed out differing ideas to come up with workable solutions. Initially, each had an idea of where the city should be — Ireland, Hawaii, or on Jupiter’s moon.

"They hashed it out," said Escobar and settled on Hawaii. "It has a lot of sun for the solar roadways and trade winds to help with wind power," she said.

While researching Hawaiian words, the trio came up with the name for their city, which means "to bloom."

The fathers of all three of the seventh-graders are engineers but the students said, until they began working on their Future City, they had only vague ideas about what their fathers did.

"The kids would come home and learn from their dads," said Wendy Liotta, Kathryn’s mother. Her husband, James Liotta, mentored the group, and many meetings were held in their home.

"It was 24/7 with these kids for six months," said Wendy Liotta. They would meet three or four times a week and talk about their project over the phone or correspond via computer. Mrs. Liotta surmised, "Maybe while they slept, they dreamed about it."

Brien Miceli, whose father, Christopher Miceli, a software engineer, also helped the group, said, "I learned about the type of stuff he does. I always thought he built submarines but now I know he does a lot with computing."

Hannah Liu, whose mother is a biologist and whose father is a liability engineer, said, "Before I did this program, I thought I might want to be an author or a lawyer. I found engineering is really exciting." She now thinks that she might want to be a bioengineer.

Liu also said, "The three of us all really got to know more about our fathers, our families, and ourselves."

All three are busy in a variety of other activities. Brien and Hannah both swim competitively with the Guilderland Cyclones. Hannah also plays the piano and the violin and likes to garden. Kathryn put her gymnastics on hold to make time for the Future City project.

"Many nights, she was up until midnight or one o’clock," said her mother, Wendy Liotta, as Kathryn made sure to complete her class assignments. "She never allowed me to write a note, to use Future City as an excuse," for not having her schoolwork done, said Mrs. Liotta. "She made the time."


This year, for the first time in the half-dozen years its has participated in the Future City program, Farnsworth had a runoff competition to choose which of the school’s six teams would go to the regional competition.

The Mohala team won and two students from a team that hadn’t made the cut — eighth-graders Anya Joynt and Adison Vanina — joined the original trio as extended team members.

The Mohala team won the Capital District regional competition in January and went on last week to compete against 35 other regional winners in Washington, D.C.

A middle-school team from Westerville, Ohio placed just ahead of the Farnsworth team and a team from Abington, Pa. came in third.

With the second-place win, Farnsworth Middle School was awarded $2,000 for its technology program. Escobar said the money will be used for curriculum development and supplies for teaching, probably in the field of electronics and magnetism.

Brien Miceli said he was "really nervous" during the competition itself, but also found it "exciting." Speaking into the microphone was disconcerting, he said, because his words echoed from different places in the room. He enjoyed playing board games in a "stress-free zone" during his down time.

Hannah Liu said of the competition, "I was scared at first. I worried the judges would be mean, giving us glares. But they were very human — regular people. They made us feel comfortable."

"It was incredible," said Escobar of the national recognition. "We always go at it for the learning. We try not to crave the win," she said. "The students did a wonderful performance. I’m very proud of them."

The essay in this year’s competition was on putting nanotechnology sensors in one part of the city’s infrastructure. The Farnsworth group took field trips to General Electric and to the state university’s College of Nanotechnology, said Escobar.

"They incorporated nanosensors into their roadways that gather solar energy," she said. "The nanosensors send energy to where it is needed."

"Our roadways are not only used to move people, goods, and services, but in combination with our offshore wind farms they also provide much of the energy used by our city," the students wrote in their essay. "Our roadways include a layer of flexible, organic (carbon and hydrogen), high efficiency (30 %) thin (100 nanometers), solar film that harnesses the sun’s energy and converts it into electricity that is distributed by an electronics layer that runs beneath the solar film."

"They gain an appreciation for engineering and the role it has in our society," said Escobar of the contestants.

She described a breakfast at the national competition where Charles Vest, the president of the National Academy of Engineering, said engineers create the world of tomorrow. "I just got goose bumps thinking, in some small way, I was helping to further that," said Escobar.

Escobar said she also enjoys watching her students learn, and grow in self-confidence.

She listed several dozen New York State learning standards in science, technology math, language arts, and social studies that apply to the Future City program and asked the 18 Farnsworth students who had participated to indicate which they had met; almost all marked 80 percent of them.

The winning students valued more than the trophies and accolades.

Asked what was the best part of the Future City competition, Brien Miceli said, "It’s very rewarding. You learn a lot and get to go on a lot of field trips. A lot of kids start and don’t know how hard it will be. It takes a lot of work and the ability to stick with it."

Kathryn Liotta answered the question in an e-mail, stating, "I really enjoyed learning a lot about nanotechnology. I learned what it is, how it is being used now, and how it could be used in the future.

"The field trip to the nanotechnology facility at SUNY Albany was fun. I learned that there are many opportunities right here in Albany for a career some day in nanotechnology. That would be fun."

She also said, "I had never been to Washington, D.C. before. It was fun to see the capital of our country. The Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument were my favorite buildings."

Hannah Liu said, "You get to meet new people who are interested in the same things you are. You have respect for them because they did the same hard things you did."

Man dies in Route 20 crash

By Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND — An early morning accident left a man dead on Route 20 last Thursday.

Joseph Kochian, a United States Air Force veteran and clerk for the New York State Department of Labor, ran a red light on Route 20, at the intersection of Route 158, police say, and died in a three-car crash.

"It shook the whole house," said Paul Noland of the 7:31 a.m. crash. Noland has lived near that intersection for 12 years and sees an accident about once a month, he said, though never on this scale.

A box truck, similar to a U-Haul, was on top of a minivan when Noland went outside to see what was happening. And police took the door off of Kochian’s sedan in order to get him out, Noland said.

"They were working on one guy right in the road, then they took him away without the lights on" the ambulance, he said of Kochian. "I knew he was dead."

The Altamont Rescue squad took Kochian to Albany Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, and John Carpentier who drove the minivan, of Altamont, was taken to St. Peter’s for his injuries, police say. The truck driver, Scott Thompson, of Schenectady, wasn’t injured, according to Guilderland Police.

The road was closed for a few hours following the accident, said Sergeant Eric Batchelder, who responded to the scene on Thursday.

There are no criminal charges and alcohol did not appear to be a factor, according to police.

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