Cockroaches bring win for Charlotte Latin science team

A group of seventh-graders at Charlotte Latin School are state champions in the North Carolina seventh-grade division of the U.S. Army’s eCybermission competition.

A team of Charlotte Latin seventh-graders recently won first place in the North Caorlina seventh-grade division of the U.S. Army’s eCybermission competition. (Above, left to right) Toluwa Olatunde, Gavin Gwaltney, Sarah Coston and Chloe Ciucevich.

A team of Charlotte Latin seventh-graders recently won first place in the North Caorlina seventh-grade division of the U.S. Army’s eCybermission competition. (Above, left to right) Toluwa Olatunde, Gavin Gwaltney, Sarah Coston and Chloe Ciucevich.

Now, the four students, called the Designer Genes, under the direction of middle school science teacher Sharon Oats, are anxiously waiting on their results from a recent presentation they gave on their project. It could make them champions of the Southeast region, ultimately giving them the opportunity to attend the national competition.

For the competition, which is administered by the National Science Teachers Association for the U.S. Army, teams of students have to come up with a project that in some way could make the community a better place, all while using the principles of STEM education, or science, technology, engineering and math.

The Charlotte Latin group, which included seventh-graders Chloe Ciucevich, Sarah Coston, Gavin Gwaltney and Toluwa Olatunde, started brainstorming and researching their project in September of last year, coming up with the idea to research and test the effectiveness of using anthranilates, or chemicals used mostly as grape flavoring, as cockroach repellent. Their research was inspired by the work of Dr. Anandasankar Ray, a scientist who proved anthranilates can be used as a repellent for mosquitoes. Ray also had expressed interest in testing his findings on cockroaches.

“We picked Madagascar hissing cockroaches instead of the ones that can be found in houses because the cockroaches in our houses carry human diseases,” Chloe said.

The team created a hypothesis, stating anthranilates, in solution with ethanol, would repel the roaches at least 80 percent as well as DEET. They used a choice chamber, which is specifically used for scientific testing, to test their hypothesis. Their experiment, designed similarly to Ray’s, used ethanol as a control, DEET solution and anthranilate solution. Containers of food were placed on top of filter paper soaked in each solution and were placed in different chambers.

Since cockroaches are nocturnal, the students had to be creative, and decided to use an iPad to set up a time-lapse video so they could observe the roaches through the night. They came out with 52 seconds of footage, which ultimately showed the species didn’t find anthranilate or DEET as effective repellents.

“We found that the ethanol worked better than any of the anthrilates,” Sarah said

But how does this project help the community? If the group was to continue their research, they said, they would like to explore putting ethanol in cleaning wipes and sprays, which ultimately could keep roaches out of unwanted places.

“We also read catnip works really well to repel cockroaches. We would test ethanol against catnip to see if ethanol really worked,” Gavin said.

For the state win, all four students won a $1,000 savings bond and could win more money if they continue in the competition. Sarah and Chloe both were part of last year’s Charlotte Latin sixth-grade eCybermission team that won second place at the national competition.

“I’ve been running this eCybermission team for years. Through the years, my teams have won well over $100,000,” Oats said of her past students. “What I need are kids I know that are willing to put in the hours. We meet once a week at club time, but also meet after school a lot during the year. I really need kids I know love science, but are really willing to
work.”

For the students, balancing required school work, sports and their eCybermission research was tough at times – the project didn’t wrap up until March – but they stuck with it.

“It was fun. We knew if we did put time in this, we would see a good outcome,” Chloe said.

 By Morgan Smith

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