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Student food, ag projects at White House Science Fair

By JERRY HAGSTROM

An FFA student from Tennessee who used genetics to breed the natural color of sheep back into the industry, a Los Angeles student who invented a dissolvable sugar packet, and two girls from Kansas City who developed a sanitizing lunchbox to make sure food is safe were among the students who got to exhibit their projects today at the White House Science Fair.

President Barack Obama hosted the fair to honor the students and to promote science and math education. Noting that he would soon host the New York Giants to celebrate their Super Bowl win, Obama told the students and assembled federal science officials that academic achievement should be honored as well.

“If we invite the team that wins the Super Bowl to the White House, then we need to invite some science fair winners to the White House as well,” Obama said.
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Hayley Hoverter
Agriculture often gets sidelined over other scientific fields at fairs, but Obama singled out Hayley Hoverter, the 16-year-old inventor of the dissolvable sugar packet, for praise.

“It’s flavorless, it’s colorless, and potentially could save up to 2 million pounds of trash each year — and that’s just at Starbucks,” the president noted. “So Master Card has already awarded her $10,000 to help turn her idea into a business.”

In an interview while she stood next to her project displayed in the Red Room, Hoverter said she saw all the trash that accumulates in only one store when her mother worked at Starbucks. She came up with sugar packets made from potato starch paper, which could be used for other condiments as well.

Hoverter started her business as a part of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s 2011 business plan competition, and won first place with the idea. Now CEO of Sweet (dis)SOLVE, she has marketed the dissolvable packets to “ecofriendly” cafes in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles. She has a patent pending, but has not yet made the connection for large-scale production.
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Maryanna McClure
Maryanna McClure, 18, became the first student from the Tennessee FFA Association to win the National FFA Agriscience Fair competition.

She said in an interview that her parents own farmland that is rented out but that she has been involved in agriculture all her life. McClure said she began showing lambs and “fell in love with Cotswold sheep.” When she realized that they had been bred in unnatural colors and that there was a demand for naturally colored fleece, she used her knowledge of genetics to make a plan to breed the sheep back to their natural color.

McClure said she plans to study animal science and agriculture education at Tennessee Technical University, and hopes to become a high school agriculture teacher and adviser to FFA, the new name of the Future Farmers of America.

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Isis Thompson and Ma’Kese Wesley with their sanitizing lunchbox. (Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report)

Sixth graders Ma’Kese Wesley and Isis Thompson and their LEGO robotics team from the ACE Collegium Campus in Kansas City researched ways to improve food safety after cantaloupe from Colorado developed listeria.

Their invention, a UV-light lunchbox, sanitizes food between the time it is packed in the morning and a student opens to eat it at lunchtime. The UV light is turned on by a darkness-detecting sensor when the lunchbox is closed, and kills bacteria that could make the food unsafe to eat.

They won the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO League competition, which aims to engage kids ages 9 to 14 in engineering.

Obama also noted that a rocketry team from Presidio, Texas, the fourth poorest school district in the state, used food to raise the money for their team to be able to compete. “I was told that teachers cooked food to sell after church, supporters drove 200 miles to pick up doughnuts for bake sales, they even raffled off a goat,” to raise the money, the president said.

“It’s young people like you that make me so confident that America’s best days are still to come,” Obama said toward the end of the ceremony. “When you work and study and excel at what you’re doing in math and science, when you compete in something like this, you’re not just trying to win a prize today. You’re getting America in shape to win the future.”