Middle school students apply high-tech solution to help solve invasive problem 3-D printer gives them new possibilities to battle Lyngbya

Julie Gorham / Citrus Chronicle

Students are learning what it takes to be environmental engineers at Citrus Springs Middle School. They are printing prototypes to solve the issues of the invasive algae lyngbya on a brand new, large-scale three-dimensional (3-D) printer in Joshua O’Leary’s seventh-grade and eighth-grade science classes.

Once a year, Duke sponsors a teacher from the district to go to Keystone Science School in Keystone, Colorado, and O’Leary won that title last summer.

“Keystone focused on taking local environmental issues and bringing them into a classroom — into a structured, problem-solving type of curriculum,” O’Leary said. “It goes into teaching the scientific method, knowing how to solve problems and a little bit of community stuff.”

While the program focuses on issues affecting Colorado, O’Leary saw an issue he could work on back home with students.

“The framework they gave us was easy to adapt to our local issues,” he said. “That is how I settled on the

Lyngbya problem — it’s always in the news, there is such a problem, plus many are donating so much money for workforce and resources to fix it. It’s a problem.”

Two students in his class, who are active with the nonprofit One Rake at a Time, took O’Leary’s idea and created a science project to test if individual rakes could help clean up Lyngbya easier.

“They had taken garden rakes and zip-tied a variety of nets to them to see which one would catch the most algae,” O’Leary said. “It was pretty good experiment.”

Then, O’Leary received a $2,000 grant from Duke to development an action project, and with an “ah-ha” moment, he knew exactly how to solve the Lyngbya issues in local waters.

“I knew if we had a bigger 3-D printer I could have my students design and prototype a rake that would remove the algae from our water,” he said. “Right now, volunteers use standard garden rakes — and spend hours raking it up.”

He had the money, but he realized large-scale 3-D printers are very expensive. That is when he stumbled upon “The Beast,” a large-scale, do-it-yourself 3-D printer created by Cultivate3-D out of Wyong, Australia.

“Prototyping isn’t possible with my small 3-D printer, but with my new one they can print a designed prototype 3 feet tall and a foot and half wide — that is big enough to be a good-size rake head.”

While the school was waiting for the delivery of “The Beast,” students set to work designing prototypes using a browser-based 3-D design and modeling program, Tinkercad.

Now, his class of seventh-grade students has developed 20 prototypes — some with unique designs or a student’s name.

Students couldn’t start building prototypes until the final week of school, but O’Leary plans to continue building each prototype through the summer.

“I’m so excited to bring this to the kids, because that is the world they will be living in and they need to start grasping possibilities right now,” O’Leary said. “They need to understand what is possible. Where else would they get this unless they went to a robotics or a STEM camp? I am just happy to offer it to them.”

O’Leary has been teaching at Citrus Springs Middle School for the past seven years and before that was a marine biologist, bringing real-world experience to the classroom.

Next year, O’Leary will teach at the Academy of Environmental Science.

“It will be a big swing, but I have the whole summer to prepare for it,” he said.

Contact Chronicle reporter Julie Gorham at 352-563-3236 or jgorham@chronicleonline.com.


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