Naperville MADScientists

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Meera, Anjali, Diya, and Siya. Put their names together and you get the MADScientists – the perfect name for four sixth-grade STEM-enthusiasts.

Last year, the middle school students contacted Councilwoman Patty Gustin, looking for a problem to solve.

With her help they learned the Naperville Park District spent $200,000 cleaning up lakes, mainly because of phosphorous runoff from artificial fertilizers.

Then, it was time to get their hands dirty.

“A lot of it was their ingenuity and their thinking process and just hooking them up with the right people with the Park District and with people at city staff,” said Gustin. “And then of course city staff identified and shared with them what the problem was and how it might relate to how they wanted to move forward.”

The MADScientists studied how natural fertilizers like cow dung, sheep dung, and coconut peat moss affect phosphorous levels and the quality of grass grown in them.

“Our results showed that sheep dung was a good alternative because it had lower phosphorous levels than the artificial fertilizer,” said Meera Dullur. “But we also concluded that all of the natural fertilizers were better than the artificial.”

They presented their results to the Park District Board of Commissioners and submitted their work for the Army Educational Outreach Program eCYBERMISSION competition.

After winning their state and regional levels and were invited to Washington, D.C. for the national showcase.

“We did a very good job,” said Diya Kannan. “We answered all of our questions and we were under time and it worked!”

And when awards time came, the MADScientists won even more than they could have predicted, taking home both the national award for sixth graders and the Army Values Award for all grade levels.

“Over the week that we were there, the people in the army watch every team to see if you’re nice, to see if you’re helping out. If you’re basically showing the army values which are loyalty, honesty, all of those,” said Kannan.

Each of the team members received $9,000 in prize money, a medal, and a trophy almost as tall as them.

The next step for the MADScientists is to field test their work with the Naperville Park District.

Naperville News 17’s Casey Krajewski reports.