Thursday, April 25, 2013

Austin Area Science Fair Students Advance to International Competition

Six science projects involving 9 students from Austin area schools and one from Houston (member of an Austin team) have advanced to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair to be held May 12-17 in Phoenix, Arizona. This is the annual super bowl of science competition involving some 1,500 of the brightest students from around the world (

The students below earned their spots at the International fair by advancing from the Austin Energy Regional Science Fair and the ExxonMobil Texas Science and Engineering Fair ( Congratulations to these excellent students and their schools for this tremendous achievement.

Meet the students and their projects:

Casey Hicks and Leah Powers (Seniors) – Vista Ridge High School, Cedar Park
Application of T4 Bacteriophages in Real-Life

Summary: Many disease-causing bacteria have become antibiotic resistant, meaning that traditional anti-biotics such as penicillin are less effective. These students demonstrate the use of a bacteria’s natural enemy (a virus) to kill the bacteria instead of antibiotic drugs. 

Alex Crisara (Senior) and Alexander Jahan Rabii (Junior) – Anderson High School, Austin
Efficient Algae-Based Life Support for Long Duration Spaceflight

Summary: Current water and oxygen storage techniques play a huge role in limiting the ability to stay in space for long periods because of their weight and limiting supplies. These students developed a system using algae (comparatively inexpensive) to extend astronauts' time in space by recycling water (for reuse) and producing oxygen in the process.

Jessica Wang, Lily Xu (Juniors- Liberal Arts and Science Academy, Austin) and 
Susan Xu (Junior- Kingwood High, Houston not pictured)
The Connectivity of Sequential Formal Languages with Applications to Genomic Sequences

Summary: Cystic fibrosis is a deadly genetic disease. Current medicine can determine if a patient has the gene but cannot accurately predict if the patient will actually develop the disease. These students created a new mathematical formula for evaluating genes that enables scientists to more accurately predict the probability that a patient who carries the cystic fibrosis gene will actually get the disease.

Vanna Hovanky (Junior) – Bowie High School, Austin
Bacterial β-galactosidase Enzyme-Prodrug Therapy: A New Approach Against Colon Cancer 

Summary: Vanna developed a way to transform harmless bacteria (normally already found in the colon) into a colon cancer-fighting mechanism. The bacteria basically converts a nontoxic drug into a cancer-fighting drug within the colon itself.

Advaith Anand (Junior), Lasa High School, Austin 
Natural Gas Separation Using Thermally Rearranged Polymers - Characterizing Morphological Changes of HAB-6FDA Polyimide Structures

Summary: When natural gas comes out of the ground, it is not in a readily usable form. It must be separated from all of the other liquids and gases (including CO2) before it can be used. This is currently an expensive and relatively inefficient process. Advaith proposes the use of a new material and inventive process that will separate the gas in a more cost effective and efficient manner, thereby reducing production costs and increasing efficiency.

London Bolsius (Sophmore) – Round Rock High School, Round Rock
3D Scanner

Summary: 3D scanners can scan real-world objects (such as a machine part) and import that object into a computer as a 3D object that can then be manipulated on a computer. 3D scanners currently exist but are prohibitively expensive. This student has created a highly accurate 3D scanner that uses “off the shelf” components and software for around $300.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Austin Energy To Offer New Thermostat Program

Austin Energy is launching a new voluntary energy management program for residential customers who use WiFi thermostats to control their cooling and heating systems. Qualifying thermostats for the program are Nest, ecobee and Filtrete, which are available through local home improvement  stores or through heating and air conditioning companies. Once a qualifying thermostat has been purchased and installed, a customer can enroll in the Austin Energy Power Partner Program through the respective web site of their thermostat company. Austin Energy provides an $85 rebate for each qualifying installed thermostat.

For the incentive, customers agree to allow Austin Energy to access their thermostats over the internet and briefly modify temperature settings incrementally by up to four degrees over a maximum of three hours (but generally not more than two hours) when demand for electricity is the highest in Austin and Texas. These energy management efforts have been used an average of about 15 days over the summer between 4 and 6 p.m. and only on weekdays.

WiFi thermostats can help customers reduce their annual air conditioning and electric heating costs by up to 20 percent because they allow the customer to manage the comfort of their home or apartment remotely via smart phones or computers. For additional information call Austin Energy at 512-482-5346. 

(This thermostat program has been in the pilot stage for several months and is scheduled for City Council approval this Thursday, April 25.)