Science Wednesday: Growing Green Minds

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

As I walked toward the EPA Booth at the Durham Earth Day Festival, a display to my right caught my eye — something that looked like a roof with a garden growing on top of it. An enthusiastic student from Durham’s Hillside New Tech High School came forward and eagerly began to share the details of their project on “green roof technology.”

I learned that these 9th-11th graders, lead by award-winning teacher Matthew Sears, received an InvenTeam grant funded by the Lemelson-MIT Program.

For their project, the students designed and built a residential green roofing system by creating a lattice structure that can support climbing plants. The light-weight material avoids roof damage while adding an aesthetic, natural look to the home’s roof while reducing heat absorption in the hot N.C. summers.

The InvenTeam met after school during the fall semester to work on their design. They spent the spring building and modifying their prototype and practicing their presentation in preparation for their June trip to MIT to present the project during EurekaFest 2010.

Impressed with the technology and the students’ enthusiasm, my colleagues and I decided to invite the students to our EPA campus to share their innovative spirit, as well as to provide them with the opportunity for a practice panel presentation before their trip to MIT.

In early June, the students gave a seven-minute presentation followed by an in-depth question and answer session about their project. EPA scientists like to ask probing questions! The experience offered a great opportunity for the students to prepare for their trip to MIT and offered our EPA scientists and managers insight into these bright young minds.

Our Director was so excited about the technology that he whisked away three of the students to show them the solar panels on EPA’s roof and to talk about the possibility of demonstrating their green roof technology on our building.

We ended the visit with a tour of our “green” campus, wished the group well, and cheered them on as we virtually followed them on their trip from Durham to Cambridge.

About the Author: Kelly Leovic manages EPA’s Environmental and Community Outreach Program in Research Triangle Park and was delighted to host these Durham students at EPA. She has worked for the EPA as an environmental engineer since 1987 and has two children in middle school and one in high school.