23 Aug 2014
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Whiz Kids: Boys Turn Pond Scum Into Cash

This week, Patch introduces you to Ross Stauder and Evan Coleman, two third-graders whose project on algae earned first place in a contest sponsored by the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Whiz Kids: Boys Turn Pond Scum Into Cash

Two Kirkwood third-graders turned a project on pond scum into prize money for themselves and their school.

Ross Stauder, 9, and Evan Coleman, 8, both students at Tillman Elementary School, won first place for their age group in the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Power of Plants contest.

The two friends teamed up to study the pros and cons of algae, which at first they weren’t even sure were plants. Algae – pond scum to the non-scientific world -- usually grow in water but lack the roots and stems of more typical plants. 

What Ross and Evan discovered was that algae were being studied for their potential in fighting certain diseases such as cancer and as a biofuel.

But algae have their disadvantages too, Ross said, explaining that an overproduction of algae – an algae bloom or red tide – can be unhealthy to marine life and people.

“Algae blooms can be really harmful,” he said. “If you go swimming in red tide you get itchy all over.”

Ross and Evan spent many hours working on their project this winter. Earlier this month, they got word they had earned first place for the third- through fifth-grade age group.

The honor carries a $200 prize for each boy and a $500 prize for their school.

“Ross and Evan submitted an eye-catching display featuring a plexiglass cube set up as an aquarium,” said Sharon Anibal, supervisor of school programs at the Missouri Botanical Garden. “Each wall was covered with facts and illustrations describing the positive and negative aspects of algal growth around the world.”

This was the third year for the contest, which was sponsored by Monsanto. Anibal said there were 300 entries involving more than 900 students in kindergarten through 12th grade from Missouri and Illinois. The official award ceremony is set for May 5.

“The purpose of the contest is for students to pick a plant, learn about the plant’s qualities and characteristics, learn about how the plant helps people, and find a way to tell everyone about why their plant deserves thanks,” she said.

This week, the boys met with Leslie Johnson, administrative intern at Tillman, to brainstorm ways to use the money they earned for the school. One idea is to help build a school greenhouse.

“That was my mom’s idea,” Ross said. “My idea was to put fruit punch in the drinking fountains.”

Johnson said she would continue to meet with the boys and research costs associated with building a greenhouse and other ideas that would connect to science and health.

"I'm so proud of both of them," she said. "They are definitely out-of-the-box thinkers."

For his part, Ross is hoping to spend some of his own prize money on a laptop and Beyblades, which are spinning tops. Evan might spend his money on a new video game, but he said most of it will go into his college savings account.

Both Ross and Evan said they liked  studying science and doing research and would like to be inventors when they grow up.

Last year, Ross won second place for his age group for his study of bamboo. He said he likes working in his family’s garden and participating in the St. Louis County Children’s Garden Club. He and his family also take part in the Plant A Row for the Hungry project, in which families plant an extra row of produce each year and donate the surplus to area food pantries.

Evan plays the piano and likes to read and spend time outdoors. He also likes to clean and organize, he said.

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