- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sporting a used toy box, a few Christmas ornaments and a Discovery credit card, a model of Augua Nova hardly looks like a city of tomorrow. But for Mercer Middle School students Sophia Folena, that’s the point.

“We want to see the potential in what we throw out,” said Daniel, 13, as he and his colleagues presented their model utopia Saturday at the National Engineers Week Future City event at the University of the District of Columbia. “In the future, it might be that what we view as waste could be used to build a city.”

The recycled metropolis, built on a 2-foot by 3-foot base of plywood, includes skyscrapers, a stadium, an industrial zone and even a water desalination plant.

“I’d say 95 percent of everything in the city is recycled, just things we gathered from trash and stuff that would normally be thrown out,” said Sophia, 14.

The Washington area at the 17th annual Future City Competition, which challenges seventh- and eighth-grade students from 37 areas across the country to design and build a prototype city.

The competition takes place Feb. 16-18 at the Ala.

Each student group works under the guidance of a teacher and a volunteer mentor engineer, researching and writing an essay on a pressing social need.

This year, the model cities must include homes that have a self-sufficient system of conserving, reusing and recycling existing water.

“The theme this year is very important, as it helps the students become aware of the environment and the increasing need for sustainable fresh water supplies,” said Stanley Onye, regional coordinator for the competition.

To meet this year’s challenge, the winning students decided to include real-world devices known as solar cubes, wind- and solar-powered desalination units that can produce up to 1,500 gallons of fresh water a day.

“It was really cool learning about the solar cubes, I mean if we used them we would really have an endless supply of fresh water,” Daniel said.

In addition to their 3-D model, the students also had to test the sustainability of their city using SimCity 4 Deluxe software, which presents the students with city problems such as budget deficits, unemployment and crime.

“The SimCity game was really cool, I mean it was awesome just seeing our city and how it would function in the real world,” said Thomas, 13.

More than 120 schools in the region participated this year, but only the Mercer students made the cut for Saturday’s regional finals. Organizers said the other schools failed to meet qualifications such as including an engineering mentor or completing the student essay on time.

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