I had the opportunity to serve as a judge at the Invent the Future Challenge Summit 2019, presented by KID Museum and the Montgomery County Public Schools, this past weekend at Gaithersburg High School. The event was the culmination of a 4-month long STEM competition where hundreds of middle school teams found a solution to the challenge question: what will you make to protect life on this planet? I expected nothing less than lots and lots of exploding baking soda volcanoes.
The normally enormous gymnasium felt quaint as hundreds of 6th to 8th graders assembled with their projects. These students had dedicated many after-school hours to finding innovative solutions to address climate change, and they were super excited to share their ideas and even prototypes. I was blown away by the breadth of ideas covered by the kids: one team made a trash can that automatically sorts recyclables from trash using ultrasound, while another built a prototype CO2 capture drone designed to hover over factories and freeways to clean polluted air. There was a prototype of an ocean-riding trash collector with underwater vision, a 3D-printed induction motor bus, and a 3D-printed exhaust pipe CO filter. Another team even created a cryogenic freezer to enable artificial insemination of endangered animal species on location, although they'd need to build a ton of these based on the latest UN report.
The most impressive team of kids made bioplastic from plant-based glycerin and has plans to produce a future version that's waterproof. Their presentation included deep background research on the environmental impact of petroleum-based plastics and estimated the price point at which their bioplastic would become competitive in order to gain greater adoption.
Image credit: Edwin Remsberg Photography. All images used with permission from KID Museum.
Although I was disappointed by the absence of baking soda volcanoes, I came away with a renewed sense of hope for our planet and the next generation. Even better, I was even able to share the news about on-demand custom manufacturing at Xometry with a few local tech entrepreneurs and the head of the Georgetown Maker Hub. As students who competed in the Invent the Future Challenge Summit move into high school and beyond, here's hoping they pave the way for sustainability with their innovative ideas, prototypes, and one day, final products.