By Karwin Sui
Kaua‘i High School STEMworks students were recently ranked as national semi-finalists in Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow STEM competition. The team submitted their concept of a bio-artificial leaf — a synthetic object that is anticipated to mimic the naturally occurring photosynthesis in the leaves of green plants. The students are now working on the final prototype.
This year marks the second year that Kaua‘i High School has been named a national semi-finalist in the competition. As a semi-finalist, the seven-member team received a $15,000 prize package.
The competition challenges public school teachers and students in grades 6-12 to utilize STEM knowledge to create solutions that improve their local communities. The Kaua‘i High team aspired to find a solution to increase the air quality in densely populated and low vegetation areas, a result of global warming.
“For a person like me who has allergies that are often caused by low air quality, I want to ensure a future where we can breathe normally,” said 12th-grader Robert Abigania, a member of Kaua‘i High’s team.
Hawai‘i continues to be a target in the ongoing fight with the global warming crisis. The continuous build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere combined with deforestation presents a constant threat to the island. From coastal erosion of Hawai‘i’s beaches and rising sea levels to excessive air pollution from carbon dioxide, the Hawaiian islands are at the forefront of the climate change battle.
“It’s unsettling that parts of our home can one day be swallowed up by the Pacific Ocean,” said 12th-grader Gen Hew, another team member.
Their project, inspired by British-Italian inventor and engineer Julian Melchiorri’s invention of the silk leaf, began with the development of a bio-artificial leaf made from silk proteins and chloroplast. Leaves are nature’s natural oxygen filtration system and the team based their project on its organic biochemistry.
The team used their collective knowledge of 3-D modeling, botany, biochemistry, and the scientific method of experimentation and research to design and produce the leaf’s 3-D model mold. Using 3-D printing is efficient and creates less waste, further promoting the team’s mission to create a more sustainable future.
“In the short term, the bio-artificial leaf will improve a small amount of the user’s surrounding air quality,” said Leah Aiwohi, design, media and STEM teacher for Kauai High School and STEMworks teacher mentor. “However, if this project is expanded to a larger scale, the artificial leaf can be used to filter and convert large amounts of polluted carbon dioxide air into clean air, even for the densest populations. This project may have the potential to aid in space exploration, producing oxygen even in the harshest conditions.”
The team will demonstrate their official prototype at the 12th Annual Hawai‘i STEM Conference on Friday, April 28 between 10:45 and 11:45 a.m.
The competition team included the following members:
- Leah Aiwohi, STEMworks teacher mentor
- Elena Kealoha, STEMworks teacher mentor
- Robert Abigania, grade 12
- Andrew Chidester, grade 11
- Gen Hew, grade 12
- Ty Kajihara, grade 10
- Brennen Omoto, grade 12
Watch the team's project below: