BYESVILLE — A group of four Meadowbrook Middle School students put their heads together last year and over the course of a number of months developed an environmentally friendly process for cleaning contaminants from “fracking” water and recycling it.
“We’re literally cleaning dirt,” said Mike Zuress, an eighth-grade student at the middle school.
“It makes it so safe it turns it into soil,” said fellow eighth-grader, Derek Rost.
Together with classmate Parker Black and seventh-grader, Will Ford, the boys began working on the project last summer as one of the teams in a STEM competition. (STEM is an acronym for “science, technology, engineering, mathematics.”)
If they win, they each will receive a week at Disney World and a $2,000 scholarship.
They are keeping the details of their project a little close to the vest because they may be aiming even higher than the competition.
“They’re considering [patenting the process],” said Jeanette Rost, the group’s adviser and Derek’s mother. A teacher at Brook Elementary School, Mrs. Rost had learned of the competition while watching the Today Show during a snow day last year.
Although she and the other parents encouraged the boys, they were the ones who took the idea and ran with it.
When they were brainstorming ideas for a project, the boys were drawn to the natural gas and oil industry. They realized the economic promise of the industry for this area. Yet, they also recognized genuine concerns about the potential for environmental hazards from frack water. It was a problem, a dilemma.
Following the entrepreneur’s mantra of finding a problem and solving it, they zeroed in on the fracking issue.
They initially developed a unit designed to be mobile.
Meanwhile, executives at Waste Treatment Corp. of Warren, Pa., learned about the boys’ project.
“When they heard about it, they were all over it like syrup over pancakes,” Mrs. Rost said.
The president of the company invited the boys to Warren and gave them a tour of the Pennsylvania facility. As they toured the facility, the team realized the initial prototype was not feasible.
“We realized our design wouldn’t fit inside a truck,” Derek said.
“So we went to a stationary design,” Parker said.
They wasted little time regrouping.
“While we were driving back, they were huddling in the back of the van and drawing sketches,” Mrs. Rost said.
Principal Russ Spence said he could not believe how much time the boys invested in the project. They worked on it during the summer and, when school started, they were spending, on average, three hours, five nights weekly working on it.
With their design reconceived, they turned for technical assistance to Basic Services Inc. BSI engineer Dan Webster helped them with specifications and with drawing up blueprints.
The boys did all of the documentation and even created a Powerpoint presentation to illustrate their unit and the process it utilizes.
“I’m proud of all of [the boys],” Mrs. Rost said. “When there were snow days for others, there were no snow days for them. They kept right on working.”