St. Patrick's students win city design contest

PASCO -- The city sits on the banks of a mighty river spanned by a cable bridge. Shiny buildings rise along terraced hillsides to take advantage of the sunny climate.

The city's air is clean, its energy needs met through renewable resources. Personal transportation devices run on hydrogen fuel cells.

People love what their community offers -- great schools, great recreation and, most importantly, cutting-edge health care. Researchers here have found a way to cure lung cancer.

The city's name is 'Serenus' -- a Latin word meaning "free and clear."

And it unfortunately only exists in the minds of five seventh-graders at St. Patrick's Catholic School in Pasco -- Emma Stewart, Sinead Thornhill, Adrianna Bernal, Rachel Armijo and Hogan Jones, all 13.

Their creation won first place in a state Future Cities competition last week. They next will present it to a panel of engineers in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 18. The annual contest is run by the National Engineers Week Foundation.

The program seeks to interest middle-school kids in engineering careers by making them think about how engineers can solve world problems.

The kids are asked to design a city and a specific product related to the contest theme, which changes annually. This year, students had to come up with a medical product that helps either senior citizens or patients with a specific disease.

The five Pasco kids envisioned a way to attack cancer cells and regrow cancer-damaged organs in the future, using microscopic robots called nanobots.

Their treatment is called Sanaspiro and involves nanobots being injected into the bloodstream and traveling through the body, fighting cancer along the way.

"I was watching the science channel and saw something on millimeter-sized super- computers," said Hogan Jones. "I thought that maybe some time in the future we could make it microns instead of millimeters and use them to fight cancer."

The teens take the Future Cities class as an extracurricular activity in school, meeting twice a week.

They started with a computer model, wrote a 1,000-word essay, built a large model of their city and prepared a presentation about their vision of the future.

They were judged on all four components and had to answer judges' questions.

"They were very quick on their feet in answering the judges' questions," said Katie Thornhill, Future Cities instructor and Sinead's mother.

The students said they won on the strength of their public speaking.

"Once we got there and saw the other teams, we felt confident," Emma Stewart said. "A lot of the models looked nice, but some groups were really quiet in their presentation. We were loud."

The model city that intimidated them most was that of the cross-town rivals -- Three Rivers Home Link in Richland. The home-schooled kids had won the state contest the past two years.

They were strong again this year, taking third place with a concept to battle post-traumatic stress disorder.

The city called Candida Casa, built by Jonathan Lentz, Sean Tompson and Phil Strom, features space elevators, light-transport systems and a product called P-DAD, said Eric Sabotta, assistant principal at Three Rivers.

P-DAD also stops stress disorder symptoms through the use of -- nanobots.

Two schools, two top-three finishers and two identical scientific approaches -- an engineering rivalry in the making.

"St. Pats and Home Link are going to be powerhouses for years to come," Sabotta said with a laugh.

-- Jacques Von Lunen: 509-582-1402; jvonlunen@tricityherald.com