Graffiti-removal compound earns kids a Washington trip

(Via Star Advertiser)

Three Moanalua High School students will compete against some the country’s best student innovators this week in Washington, D.C.

Dubbed Graffiti Busters 101, the trio has already won $12,000 in regional competitions. The team would win a total of $15,000 more if named the national winner in a competition called eCYBERMISSION, sponsored by the Army and administered by the National Science Teachers Association.

Courtney Yoshiyama, Diane Barroga and Timothy Nicdao are slated to present their graffiti-removing compound to judges on Thursday.

Made from white vinegar, baking soda and freshly squeezed lemon juice, the compound can remove graffiti scrawl with just minutes of scrubbing, according to the Graffiti Busters and their adviser and physics teacher Alan Cabanting.

The compound is better for the environment and safer to use than many store-bought paint strippers made with toxic chemicals, according to the students, who came up with the idea after seeing graffiti marring stop signs and murals at schools they previously attended.

Graffiti Busters is among 20 teams advancing from a pool of 60 regional finalists in the competition open to students in grades six through nine. Now in its 13th year, the Internet-based eCYBERMISSION program tasks students with developing “solutions to real-world problems” in their communities, according to a news release.

A panel of judges including Army scientists and engineers, educators, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professionals picked top teams based on “innovative ideas” and team responses during question-and-answers sessions, the release said.

For each of the Moanalua High students, all of whom recently wrapped up ninth grade, making the cut for the national event meant losing some sleep.

The students said they sometimes stayed up into the early morning hours brainstorming and testing ideas for their graffiti-erasing compound even though they had to be at school 8 a.m. They would use their computers to collaborate, and experiments were conducted at Courtney’s house.

In addition, to tackling experiments, the three had to learn sophomore-year chemistry concepts.

Timothy, who moved to Hawaii from Manila with his family while in while in elementary school, said he was already well acquainted with education-related challenges. At the beginning of third grade, Timothy couldn’t speak English, but he became fluent by middle school.

Timothy and Courtney were students in Cabanting’s ninth-grade honors-level physics class. During the 2015-16 school year, Diane plans to take on her first honors-level science class.

The Graffiti Busters’ appearance in the national competition marks the second time that a Moanalua High team has advanced to an eCYBERMISSION finalist round.

Last summer, Moanalua High student Nainoa Chun was a member of a team that traveled to the nation’s capital as a finalist. The team had conducted experiments to determine the amount of bacteria found on fruit from various Oahu markets. It then filmed a public service announcement through which team members explained how to properly wash fruits.

The Graffiti Busters hope their homemade paint remover will make it easy and safe for people to get involved in ridding their communities of graffiti.

On Friday, while the students were excited about the opportunity to meet other eCYBERMISSION finalists and enjoy a bit of sightseeing, they were also a bit nervous about competing. While practicing their presentation, they even fussed for a minute or so over how to introduce themselves to judges in Washington.

After considering options ranging from “Aloha, everyone” to “Aloha, judges,” and they decided to go with simply “Aloha.”

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