The Cleveland High School “Storming STEM” team appears on a video chat. They were among the winners in the recent Governor’s STEM Challenge. Courtesy photo.

Here’s yet another feather in the cap for Cleveland High School, whose “Storming STEM” team won the latest Governor’s STEM Challenge recently.
Intel sponsored the team, which was one of 18 winners out of 33 teams.
The 2020 Challenge question: “How can you combine New Mexico’s natural resources with technology to address regional/global needs?”
Students and high schools accepting that challenge constructed models demonstrating their answer to that question. Teams consisted of no more than 10 students and two teacher mentors, and submitted a solution proposal in addition to presenting at the Virtual Statewide STEM Showcase on Dec. 12.
Science, technology, engineering and math employers judged the projects on the basis of quality and the degree to which answers demonstrated necessary skills associated with STEM organizations. Winning teams were awarded up to $5,000; $500 went to each student.
The Storm’s STEM team, made up of six students, came up with a device that can easily be assembled and taken apart and generates electricity and hot water from New Mexico’s most-abundant resource: the sun.
Unlike other mechanisms such as solar panels, the CHS project SolGen produced zero emissions and was mostly made out of recycled materials. By utilizing a Fresnel lens — basically a sheet of plastic — to concentrate sunlight to a single, superheated point, the team was able to harness the power of the sun to boil water and use the steam to run a steam engine, which powered a battery.
“The end goal for SolGen would be to provide New Mexicans with a setup to boil water to drink, cook food and generate electricity through the use of steam engines,” said Jacob Trappett, Storming STEM vice president.
“The first steps in designing SolGen primarily consisted of purchasing and collecting the necessary materials to construct the first prototypes,” Trappett explained.
“The team purchased materials, such as two-by-fours and steel wool, using money provided by the competition itself. The Fresnel lenses used were recycled from old CRT televisions. The frame for one of the three prototypes was made using recycled metal and welded together by two team members.
“After gathering the materials,” Trappett said, “the team split up into three groups, each tasked with constructing a prototype for a specific use for the project.
“Team 1 constructed a prototype to quickly boil water. Team 2 created a modular and adjustable prototype for easy transportation. Team 3 made a prototype using PVC and other recycled materials to show that the cost of a prototype would be close to nothing.”
“When finished, Team 1 used its prototype to show how quickly water could be boiled — 200 seconds.
“We were inspired by the need for electricity and hot water in households that do not have easy access to these essentials, and over a series of Google Meets, we discussed different ideas to generate electricity without expensive technology or the need to burn fossil fuels on a smaller scale,” added Eliana Juarez, Storming STEM president.
“We decided to design a model made of recyclable materials to generate electricity and hot water in a closed-loop system that relies on gravity and thermodynamics to function,” she said.
“The team met online several times a week to research ways to maximize efficiency, and created three prototypes and worked in groups of two to ensure safety of the team. Each prototype served a different purpose, and together we were able to demonstrate proof of concept and learn a lot about energy and engineering in the process.”
Although the engineering project was challenging on a virtual platform, the CHS team was successful.
“The widespread use of this project would definitely help the state ‘go green,’ thanks to its low price and minimum impact on the environment by using New Mexico’s most abundant resource in an original way,” Juarez said.
Rounding out the team were Elijah Griego, Isabella Hendricks, Zachary Cowden and Cooper Lane.
The team’s leaders, CHS teachers Ashli Johnston and Lauren Huey, said they were proud of their students, who “surpassed all expectations we had for them.
“This was a difficult year, and the CHS Governor’s STEM Challenge Team did an outstanding job utilizing natural resources and recycled materials to address a real-world issue many New Mexico residents face. We are blessed to have such an amazing group of students interested in STEM and making the world a better place — we cannot wait to see what the future holds for these bright minds.”
“Despite the circumstances, persistence will let you complete what you set your mind to, especially if you work together with others and keep an open mind,” Juarez said.
CHS also won a similar challenge in 2019 for “Combating Teen Vaping Through Propylene Glycol Detection,” an affordable, effective vaping-safety detector. Five of this year’s team members were part of the winning team from last year’s competition.
“(Their) previous experience greatly helped throughout all stages of the project this year,” Juarez said.

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Gary Herron | Observer staff writer