STEM club competes in states
Mr. Andy Paulhamus and seven STEM club students went to the state STEM competition in Harrisburg recently. The team placed first at the regional competition in February to advance to states. The students created an organic soil amendment and fertilizer made from industrial waste products.
“The process of creating our fertilizer was an amazing experience,” said sophomore Oam Patel. “I learned a lot about planting and the agriculture industry, such as the importance of the carbon and nitrogen ratio and the ideal nutrient levels for optimal plant growth.”
The group collected used coffee grounds from Alabaster Coffee, wood chips from the school’s construction program and spent brewing grains from the New Trail Brewery. They also used tea leaves.
“A soil amendment increases the quality of soil by providing a more permeable substance for the roots to grow in and aides in water retention,” explained junior Rosie Flock.
The team initially set out just to create a product that enhanced the soil.
“In our initial research, we realized that the coffee bean is full of nutrients that are good for plants, so we decided to explore how we might use them,” explained Patel. “Through more research, we learned that the nutrients in grains, and even tea leaves, could supplement soil as well.”
The first step was creating the soil additive. Then, the team went even further with the soil amendment by composting it into a concentrated liquid fertilizer.
“This fertilizer can be used as a nutrient supplement for hydroponics or diluted by the consumer and used as a foliar spray or root drench,” Flock said.
The club’s test results showed that their product was enormously effective in boosting plant health and growth.
“The stalks of the lettuce and corn plants were definitely bigger and thicker in the plants that were treated with the fertilizer,” Patel reported.
An indirect benefit of the product is that it prevents waste from ending up in landfills.
“The waste from the coffee shop and the brewery would just be thrown out anyway,” Patel explained. “People have tried to recycle the grain from breweries and feed livestock with it, but typically, the animals won’t eat it.”
“STEM club this year was a really great way for me to not only get to know a lot of brilliant kids from our school, but also to learn STEM skills and soft skills like communication and public speaking,” Flock said.