Spotlight on Seventh Grade, Southeast Region, First Place Team: Team Phosphogypsum

Three seventh grades from Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland, Fla., received a first-place award in this year’s national eCYBERMISSION competition. With this award, each team member will receive a $3,000 U.S. EE Savings Bond, a certificate of recognition from the U.S. Army and an expenses-paid trip to the National Judging and Educational Event (NJ&EE) in Baltimore, Md., in June to present their final projects.

“Team Phosphogypsum”, comprised of students Annika Mulaney, Lindsey Brown and Abhinav Venigalla, and led by Team Advisor Debbie Viertel, was recognized by judges for its investigation into the effects of the accumulating stacks of phosphogypsum around the phosphate mines in its local county. The team tested the effects of phosphogypsum on the water retaining properties of St. Augustine, Fla., grass to see if it might aid in conserving water during drought conditions. If the substance had the ability to assist grass in retaining water, the team reasoned that it would be beneficial for both overall water consumption and conservation during drought season.
To ensure a proper testing environment, the team worked in controlled labs with the Florida Institute of Phosphate Research. The students created a simulated lawn housed in a small greenhouse to keep the weather constant and turned a sprinkler system on twice a day for two weeks. Various amounts of phosphogypsum were added to metal pans containing holes for drainage and monitored the water amount.

The lab results for water retention properties of phosphygypsum were favorable, and the students plan to contact the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to promote the use of phosphygypsum. The students also hope to increase awareness throughout their community through fliers and presentations that will inform their neighbors about the advantages of the substance on grass during drought season.


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