WASHINGTON • Five Girl Scouts from the St. Louis area showed their environmental invention Wednesday in the White House Science Fair, an annual exhibition highlighting the top children’s science ideas in the country.
Sindhu Bala, 12, Ellie Englund, 12, Sydney Gralike, 13, Julianna Jones, 13, Reagan Mattison, 12, and Christina Yepez, 13, of Girl Scout Troop 1484, have developed what they call an “Eco Bin,” which helps dissolve Styrofoam cups into an adhesive they have marketed to other Girl Scout troops for art projects. All but Ellie were at the White House Wednesday where, along with more than 100 other young scientists, they met and were lauded by President Barack Obama.
“He is very inspirational,” said Julianna.
She and her fellow Girl Scouts — wearing Lego-inspired “Blockheads” T-shirts — explained how their invention works to crowds of visitors coursing through the White House’s State Dining Room, where heads of state often come for official dinners. Other exhibits were spread throughout the White House.
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The ”Blockheads’” website explains that the idea “all started with a cup.”
The girls, all students at Sperreng Middle School in the Lindbergh School District, learned that a Sunset Hills retirement community, Friendship Village, was using 20,000 Styrofoam cups a month. Reagan said they got some of their inspiration from online videos and a visit to a local landfill.
Styrofoam cups take 500 years to decompose in a landfill. The troop developed “Eco Bin,” a metal container that contains a nontoxic substance called d-limonene that when mixed with water dissolves the Styrofoam.
They call the gooey substance that remains “GIOo,” which they bottle and market at their school and to other troops. The girls are now pursuing patents for both the container and GIOo and have a chance to compete for the Global Innovation Award at the annual FIRST Lego League Nationals here in June.
The St. Louis girls are among more than 100 young innovators participating, including 17-year-old Olivia Hallisey of Greenwich, Conn., who developed a rapid and portable diagnostic test for the Ebola virus. Other ideas ranged from creating electricity from ocean energy to multiuse prosthetics for veterans.
This is the sixth White House Science Fair. Obama started it early in his presidency, saying that if championship athletic teams were routinely invited to the White House, science innovators should be, too.
“Some of the best moments that I’ve had as president have involved science and our annual Science Fair,” he said.
Referring to one exhibitor from last year, Obama added: “I have shot a marshmallow out of a cannon directly under Lincoln’s portrait.”
The fair is in tandem with the administration’s plan to train an additional 100,000 science, technology and engineering teachers by 2020. The White House said Wednesday the country is about halfway to that goal.
The St. Louis exhibitors were the only Girl Scouts in this year’s fair. On Thursday, they and an entrant from Oklahoma have been invited by Microsoft to its Innovation & Policy Center in Washington to learn about careers in technology, and to participate in computer coding exercises.
They are also scheduled to meet with Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and several members of the House of Representatives from Missouri.