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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 22, 2009

Brave new world
Farnsworth engineers design winning city — again

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Cibola, the legendary city of gold that eluded Spanish explorers in the New World, has been discovered at last — built by a dozen creative middle school students.

Those students, from Farnsworth Middle School — Laura Chevalier, Edmund Doyle, Matt Gu, Adam Janover, David Lasselle, Isaac Malsky, Zubin Mukerjee, Abigail Schnoor, Joe Sipzner, Jake Van Buren, Sid Varma, and Michelle Xiong — came in first last weekend at a regional Future City Competition.

The Farnsworth team will compete nationally in Washington, D.C. in February.

“They were very dedicated and worked so hard,’ said Deb Escobar, an enrichment teacher at Farnsworth who, along with Tom McGreevy, a technology teacher, advised the team. They also got a hand from Rob Sipzner, an engineer with Barton and Loguidice, whose son is on the Farnsworth team.

The challenge this year in the nationwide event, part of National Engineers Week, was to design self-sufficient home systems that conserve and re-use water. Seventh- and eighth-graders working with teachers and volunteer engineer mentors built model cities from recycled materials — each costing less than $100.

The Farnsworth students located Cibola in a real place — the province of Pando in Bolivia — on a real river — Madre de Dios, which means Mother of God in Spanish.

Their city houses over 150,000 people living in the year 2237. They designed a system in which treated water from the river goes into a closed system where 90 percent of it is recycled and re-used. Solid waste is separated from the water, Escobar said, and incinerated. The methane from the incineration is used to fuel the cars.

Two of the team members, Joe Sipzner and Zubin Mukerjee, developed a podcar system for transportation. “The cars fold up,” said Escobar, “and no one owns one.” Drivers drop their cars off at various public sites…The podcar pass is your key,” said Escobar. “It’s computerized and logs on the mileage.”

Produce and meat in Cibola is grown in food production towers. “They call them FPTs,” said Escobar with a laugh, adding, “They like abbreviations.”

The fish live in circular tanks — “aquaponic merry-go-rounds,” said Escobar — where the plants get nutrients from the fish.

No animals are slaughtered in Cibola. “Meat is grown with stem-cell technology,” said Escobar, “so you just eat the tissue; no animals are killed.”

“Like gangbusters”

The Future City program, in its 17th year, has over 30,000 students participating from across the country. Guilderland has fielded teams for seven years and, counting this year, will have gone to national competition four times in a row. Last year’s team from Farnsworth came in second nationwide.

The regional event with 22 teams from eight counties was held at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. Voorheesville Middle School also sent a team, which built a city called Moon Base V.

Last year, Farnsworth held run-off competitions for teams of three. This year, all 12 students who showed interest participated.

The Farnsworth team got off to a late start this year — at the end of October — due to financial issues, said Escobar. “The district did not want to let it go,” she said of fielding a Future City team. “It’s been worthwhile; so many students have learned about engineering.”

Usually, the Farnsworth team starts research over the summer but this year the group’s enthusiasm and creativity made up for lost time, said Escobar. After the first meeting, she said, “They came back in a week like gangbusters,” with well-researched and creative ideas.

“It was a tough competition this year,” said Escobar. “Holy Spirit [School in East Greenbush] came in second by a hair…We worked hard but were pleasantly surprised to win. The competition was so good.”

Maple Hill Middle School in Castleton-on-Hudson came in third, Lake George Junior High in Lake George came in fourth, and Algonquin Middle School in Averill Park came in fifth.

The judges for the Capital District regional competition included over 50 engineering and technical professionals.

In addition to securing the trip to nationals with its first-place win, the Farnsworth team also won three special awards:

—     Most Innovative Design of Infrastructure;

—     Best Future City Presentation; and

—     Best Technology for Re-Using Existing Water Sources.

“Fair share”

 While the model city may be the most visible part of the competition, much of the work is behind the scenes.

The first step is for students to use SimCity software to create a city. Isaac Malsky led that project, said Escobar. Students who create livable cities are rewarded by having them grow as residents move in; they learn the importance of good infrastructure like water and power and transportation.

Second, the students do an engineering feasibility study, which Zubin Mukerjee headed. The challenge involved water conservation and treatment. “They needed to design a sustainable closed system for water renewal,” said Escobar. “It was very, very hard.”

Third, the students had to create a city abstract, on which Joe Sipzner took the lead, describing Cibola’s key features.

Fourth was building the city; all 12 team members contributed to that project. Malsky designed a train that ran with magnetic energy. Adam Janower built a wind tower that revolves to create energy. David Lasselle built a geothermal plant.

The fifth and final part was a presentation by three students — Mukerjee, Sipzner, and Abigail Schnoor. They had to explain all the facets of the city in an entertaining way in less than seven minutes.

“Each and every student contributed a fair share,” said Escobar.

The team will travel to Washington, D.C. from Feb. 14 to 19 for the national competition and is looking for donations to offset the travel and hotel costs. Anyone wanting to donate can contact Escobar at Farnsworth Middle School. The team will be selling car-wash tickets and holding other fund-raisers, she said.

The grand prize is a trip to Space Camp in Alabama.

“We would like to provide the opportunity to as many who would like to go,” Escobar said of the 12 team members. “It’s a great educational experience.”

Beyond competing and socializing with fellow Future City winners from across the country, the students tour museums and historic sites at the nation’s capital.

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