Reed High School students in the science and Career & Technical Education (CTE) classes were recently awarded a $10,000 grant from Lemelson-MIT to build an invention/create a tangible solution that helps solve real world problems.
With this grant, Reed High School students will continue perfecting a device that they are creating to remove cigarette butts out of drain sewers so that the toxins caused from them won’t end up in Pyramid Lake. Cigarette butts are one of the most common and most toxic sources of litter that end up in the Truckee River and Sparks waterways that can negatively impact the endemic fish population in Pyramid Lake.
This idea to create a contraption that catches cigarette butts in drain sewers is the brainchild of lead inventor Alex Marsh who has been involved with invention projects ever since she got to high school (Marsh is currently a senior). In the 2018-19 school year, Marsh won the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow $20,000 award by inventing an IV clip to keep medical tubes from falling on the ground and getting contaminated. The award money went back into Reed High School’s technology programs.
“She wanted something that would create a positive impact on the community,” says Reed High School Science Teacher Leigh Metcalfe. “She’s very concerned about environmental issues. (Marsh) is always paying attention to what’s going on around her and found that cigarette butts are the number one contaminant in sewage drains,” Metcalfe adds. Therefore, Marsh and Metcalfe went around to the energy tech and AP environmental classes and gave a presentation to recruit members for the invention. The students drew up a 16-page proposal and Lemelson-MIT chose theirs out of the applications received nationwide to pursue their invention.
Now the students are busy working out the kinks of their invention, which is a pinwheelstyle contraption that catches cigarette butts as water spins through it. Most of the team that is now attending Reed High caught an interest in engineering, inventing, and science through their STEM lab and robotics programs in middle school. Members of the team shared that they enjoy working together to solve a problem that could lead to a more sustainable environment for future generations.
The team plans on getting community feedback, especially from those that work closely with Sparks’ storm drains to see if the current invention is feasible and what the students need to improve on. Someone from Lemelson-MIT will come out in February to give a technical review and the project is expected to be completed at the end of May. Then the students will have the opportunity to present the final project at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. during EurekaFest in June 2020.
“The remarkable thing about this project is that it is 100 percent the effort of students,” says Leigh Metcalfe. “They recognized and researched a problem they noticed in their community, they decided that they wanted to keep cigarette butts from traveling to Pyramid Lake and they dreamed up an initial solution that the Lemelson-MIT Program saw as unique, useful, and intriguing enough to grant the team funds to take it to the next level. I cannot wait to see how the initial design transforms through innovation into the final working model,” she adds.