Science whizzes win competition, impact community
By Christina Ishizu
A team of homeschoolers from Roanoke, Virginia, recently became national finalists in the 2004–2005 eCYBERMISSION competition. The annual science, math, and technology contest challenges 6th–9th graders to identify a problem within a local community, formulate a hypothesis, conduct research, and test a solution. On April 11, 2005, Benjamin and Philip Knouff, Caleb Hancock, and John Fenzel—dubbing themselves the IFORGOTIT team—were named first-place finalists for their grade and region, earning them a June trip to Washington, D.C., for the National Judging and Educational Event.
L to R: Caleb Hancock, Benjamin Knouff, John Fenzel, Philip Knouff
The 9th graders’ project focused on controlling hazardous microbiological growth in cooling towers. Charles Brenneman, brother-in-law of team advisor and homeschool mom Betty Knouff, worked as an engineer in a hospital that had recently begun using a mix of ionized copper and silver to control the microbiological growth. This method, he said, did not pollute the land like the chemical compounds previously used. He introduced the boys to Bob Russow, CEO and founder of Water Chemistry Inc., which sold chemicals to local companies.
With Russow as their mentor, the members of IFORGOTIT compared the two methods of controlling hazardous growth. They discovered that the ionized copper and silver method was by far the safer of the two and just as effective. They also discovered that it was far more economical, saving thousands of dollars. The boys took water samples from four different cooling towers in the city, tested them, and recorded the results for about three months. Russow provided equipment and accompanied them on their site trips.
Toward the end of the project, the team received an unexpected blow when Russow died from injuries received in a car accident. “Mr. Russow was a man of integrity,” says Betty Knouff. “He was a strong Christian, and was very pleased to help the boys with their project.”
“He taught us to always do your best, even when you don’t feel like it,” adds John Fenzel. So the team kept going. Two employees of the chemical company were eager to provide assistance and helped the boys complete the experimentation process.
At the national competition in Washington, D.C., IFORGOTIT gave a five-minute presentation and set up a display booth for their project. Although they did not place, the boys are experiencing rewards that go far beyond the savings bonds, medals, and plaques they received for advancing to the national level. From Bob Russow and each other, the boys learned the value of a strong work ethic and teamwork. And they are seeing the impact of their research on the community: their city council is currently working on implementing the ionized copper and silver method in some of Roanoke’s cooling towers.
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