Students bring Taos to D.C.

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For some students, summer vacation means well-deserved time off from studies and school, but for members of Taos NanoTygers, summer is no excuse to put down the books.

Taos High School sophomores Daniel Cordova, Indigo Acosta and Cameron Gonzales recently returned from an experience of a lifetime with the lightweight, antibacterial and self-healing material they have been working on for the national eCYBERMISSION competition in Washington, D.C. The group’s members showcased and presented their project to top scientists and judges at the capital in a national competition after winning both state and regional events. They were finalists in the national event, but fell just short of the top prize.

Beginning with Cordova’s initial science fair project, the team combined efforts of previous work to collaborate on making vests out of material to assist the U.S. Army with future research in making more efficient protective clothing. More than 20 teams from across the country competed and students gained experience in the scientific field, which Cordova and Acosta plan to pursue as careers.

“Our community and state have seen many police personnel and paramedics injured in the line of duty,” said Cordova. “A few of us have family in the military who have similar concerns about their safety.”

The yearlong project uses several chemicals to create a protective clothing for military and first response employees, which the team tested using various methods, including burn tests and weight tests. Cloth was soaked in a solution to create a protective film designed to perform several of the actions required in the competition. Keeping in Taos Tiger fashion, the black-and-orange vests were worn by the team to demonstrate their uses and were showcased to judges through various presentations. The Taos students said they were grateful for the connections made and the experience gained at the national competition.

Looking at a possible patent for their material, the students plan to continue their efforts to work on a full protective suit for future applications. Currently, the vests cost the group a total of $40 each to manufacture. The full suit would cost them $100. It is their goal to reduce costs to try and make the full suit cost only $20 by experimenting with the rations of the chemicals used in the protective layers. Some of the main chemicals used are baking soda, bentonite and graphene, which can get rather expensive for a science competition, reaching nearly $200 for 10 grams of the material. The initial costs of the materials were funded through community donations, as well as competition money that the team won at both state and regional competitions.

“As this was originally a project that was taken to the regional science fair, we wanted to see how a protected uniform would compare to any other project,” said Acosta. “It was also very awesome to see all the monuments and meet new people.”

The team’s members are ambitious about their future careers in science, with both Cordova and Acosta making plans to attend New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro. This project has allowed the students a possible trip to Massachusetts to further discuss their product with the Natick Laboratories in the future. Though they fell just shy of the blue ribbon, the students sparked the interest of several scientists and Army representatives during their time in D.C.

The competition is set up for sixth- through ninth-grade teams and focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics areas of study. Sponsored in part by the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program, students are allowed to see real-world applications of their work in science and compete based on their interests in the field.

“It was a very tight competition,” said Taos NanoTygers sponsor Laura Tenorio. “Actually, they gained more than the national championship on this trip.”

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