Gulliver Prep engineering students create system to fight malnutrition

After an intense year of brainstorming, researching and inventing a product to alleviate malnutrition around the world, seven students at Gulliver Preparatory School have won the Best Presentation Award at the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge.

For the students at the Pinecrest school, their task at hand has just begun.

The award for presenting their project at Kennedy Space Center last week was just one achievement in a list of goals.

“Our goal with the actual presentation wasn’t to win the competition,” said Louis Hamilton, 16, one of the students who focused on producing the prototype. “It’s getting people to watch it from all over the world.”

Gulliver is part of Project Lead The Way, one of the nation’s leading providers of K-12 STEM programs. It serves more than 6,500 schools around the country.

The PLTW Engineering program is about applying science, technology, engineering and math to solve complex, open-ended problems in a real-world context — and that is exactly what the seven students did with their Nutra-Tree mechanical system.

“What we’re trying to do is to create a very different type of student experience. We’re developing skills that are highly sought after in the job market as well as the skills higher education is looking for,” said Dr. Vince Bertram, CEO of PLTW.

“We’re very proud of the students, teachers and school leaders at Gulliver Prep. These students do remarkable work.”

Their inspiration began after consulting Go Haiti — Generations of Hope, Haiti, a nonprofit organization committed to reaching the lost and poor of Haiti. The president and co-founder of the organization, Dr. Franco Jean-Louis, introduced the students to a highly nutritious “miracle” plant: moringa.

The plant has high nutritional value containing calcium, vitamin C, phosphorus, beta-carotene, protein, iron, potassium among others. It has numerous health benefits like anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial effects and is extremely beneficial for the digestive system.

According to the students at Gulliver, the plant is so vital that in rural communities, people can trade it for other things like food, shelter and medicine.

After months of deliberation, the students came up with an idea and prototype for their Nutra-Tree mechanical system, an easily transportable leaf grinder.

“The biggest challenge was being clear on what we wanted to do,” said Jeronimo Guijarro, 18, the project manager of the team. “At the beginning we didn’t have a clear picture on how big this was.”

They students considered creating juices, bars and capsules with moringa before finally decided on the Nutra-Tree mechanical system.

The system has a place to clean and dry moringa leaves, which then fall into a grinder and turn into a fine grain powder that can be dissolved in water or eaten with food.

With five grams of leaves and 30 seconds of grinding, two grams of powder can be produced, which equals one serving.

It cost $400 to produce — a cost the students hope they can offset by partnering with nonprofit organizations. It’s convenient and, most importantly, portable with the entire mechanism on wheels and the grinder being removable.

“Dr. Franco mentioned that there are a lot of rural areas in Haiti that are up in the mountains,” said Schuyler Reinken, 18.

Reinken recalls that engineering students from previous years created a water filtration device that is now being easily transported around Haiti, Nigeria, Argentina and the Philippines.

“Since the beginning as a group, which has really turned into the family, we knew and truly believed that we could make a difference with this project,” said Jared Kaplan, 16, one of the students who spent long hours producing the prototype.

The students plan to implement this system in Haiti by the end of the summer.

“We knew we could do it and once we got to the competition we felt empowered.”

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