Model Mars Colony Out of This World

Using their knowledge of solar power, cold fusion, water recycling, land value and taxes, a team of precocious Stanford eighth graders has built an award-winning model of a Mars colony. The students won first place among 47 teams in Southern California's Future City Competition. As finalists representing the western states, their performance earned them a trip to Washington, D.C. where they presented their model to top engineers and business representatives last week. Students Ryan Bogner, Lauren Follett and Daniel Pilchman designed the model city using special computer software. They wrote essays about the model and prepared an oral presentation for the judges. Computer teacher Kurt Victor worked with the students before and after school, with some volunteer help from his father, Ken Victor, an aerospace engineer. But the students did the work themselves. "I felt strongly this had to be the students' project," said the younger Victor, a 10-year veteran of the classroom. "It's immensely satisfying. I'm extremely proud of them. This is a group of talented students who have exhibited insights and maturity beyond their years." The eighth annual competition was sponsored by the National Engineers Week group, which organizes the events and pays for the students' trips to the nation's capital. Students learned about engineering and management from real-life professionals from the Port of Long Beach. They established a construction timeline for their Mars colony, addressing basic needs for survival, such as air, water, food and power. They addressed safety issues, crime prevention and leisure and educational opportunities. All of this required creativity, planning and intense collaboration. "We learned the importance of teamwork, compromising and cooperating," student Lauren Follett said. The poised students also became adept at fielding tough questions about how they intended to turn a barren desert of red sand into the flourishing city they called Marston: Q: How is air produced? A: CO2 compounds are harvested from the Martian soil, then split to free the oxygen. The oxygen is then integrated with nitrogen and carbon dioxide to make breathable air. Q: How is your city funded? A: Our major source of revenue comes from taxes on mined goods and mining. We also get funds from Earth-based governments. The talented trio even created their own marketing materials. A brochure advertises "Marston: City of the Future." In the brochure's acknowledgement, the students recognize their parents "for always being there to encourage us or help us in times of need." For anyone who would like to see their award-winning Mars colony, the students will present their future city at the March 6 Board of Education meeting.