News Post

9th-grade Team Scores First in State ECYBERMISSION STEM Competition
9th-grade Team Scores First in State ECYBERMISSION STEM Competition

Providence Day School’s 9th-grade Charger Fire team took first place for North Carolina’s 9th-grade category of the 15th annual eCYBERMISSION competition — one of several science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiatives offered by the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program.

Charger Fire — comprised of Nandita Balaji, Shreyas Bhasin, Kevin Kapsar and Zoe Sherman — were among the 4,200 6th- through 9th-grade teams to compete in the international competition that challenges students to develop solutions to real-world problems in their local communities.

Students can win on a state, regional and national level, with national winning teams receiving $9,000 in U.S. saving bonds and attendance at eCYBERMISSION’s annual National Judging and Education Event. In addition, up to five teams have the opportunity to receive the Army’s $5,000 STEM-in-Action Grant to further implement their projects.

As state winners, Charger Fire competed via Skype in the regional competition April 27, presenting a 4-minute pitch to a panel of judge, who will select five teams to advance as finalists to the national event in Washington, D.C. in June.

Charger Fire, under the guidance of their advisor, Middle School science teacher Ashley McClelland, developed an early-detection device to minimize the effects of a forest fire.

The students began brainstorming ideas in the fall when the smoke from fires devastating the Appalachian Mountains reached Charlotte. After several weeks research and consultations with experts in the field — namely Dr. Aixi Zhou, Fire Safety Engineering Technology associate professor at UNC-Charlotte, and Dr. Nicholas Skowronski, a research forester with U.S. Forest Service — the team finalized their plans for the early-detection device and constructed their first prototypes.

Their device contains numerous sensors that continuously monitor the surrounding environmental conditions. The sensors send data to a Raspberry Pi, a small, programmable computer, which compiles the information and makes predictions.”

Everything is housed inside a fire-resistant stainless steel casing with a solar panel to power the Raspberry Pi. The device is programmed to send an alert via an app the team created when the early stages of a fire is indicated.

Charger Fire did extensive testing of their device both on their own and in Dr. Zhou's lab to determine appropriate threshold values above which their device would send its alert and to ensure the device functioned properly. Their next steps are to refine the prototype and complete testing in an authentic wildfire scenario.

The team also plans to apply for a provisional patent as they continue their work in hopes that someday it will be used by both emergency officials and local residents as an early alert system, allowing for rapid response and minimal destruction due to forest fires.