Governor's STEM competition asks students to create devices to make the world safer

Sam Ribakoff
Farmington Daily Times
From left to right, Bloomfield High School students Jacob Berryhill, Kyron Keith, Eduardo Arevalo, Cash Snell and Andrew Pearson are seen participating in the New Mexico Governor's STEM Challenge in Albuquerque on Dec. 7, 2019.

FARMINGTON – High school students from all over the state, including three local schools, participated in a STEM competition at Los Lunas High School in Albuquerque sponsored by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

There were 19 different STEM industry employers present at the competition, including Chevron, Facebook and Intel. A group of educators and government officials served as judges for the student projects, giving out cash prizes of $5,000 to 19 different student projects.

All participating students got a varsity letter from the New Mexico Activities Association.

The Dec. 7 competition, the New Mexico Governor's STEM Challenge, tasked students to use their skills in science, technology, engineering and math to develop prototypes of technologies to answer the prompt “how can you use science and technology to make the world safer?"

Navajo Prep team developed metals detection device

A group of freshman students from Navajo Preparatory School in Farmington answered the prompt by developing a handheld spectrometer device that can be used to see if food products contain different metals, like lead or aluminum.

International Baccalaureate Coordinator and Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement adviser at Navajo Prep Donna Fernandez said that the spectrometer was developed by the students with Lane Farms, a farm whose management worried about residual metals from the 2015 Gold King mine waste water spill in the waters of the San Juan River. The farm uses that water to irrigate their crops and sustain their livestock.

“This [device] can be instrumental in farmer’s markets and for people to use in international travel,” Fernandez said.

Although the Navajo Prep students did not win any prize money for the device, Fernandez said that one of the students who worked on the project will submit the device to another science fair in the upcoming year. 

“Hopefully they’ll carry this competition into next year,” Fernandez said, “We really want to continue encouraging students in this area and ask them this question again, how can we create technology that makes our world a better place?”   

Facebook recognizes Bloomfield team

Although they were not awarded a prize at the competition itself, Bloomfield High School's Gifted Services coordinator Amy Florez said the team of Bloomfield High School students she coached on a ransomware project were contacted on the morning of Tuesday Dec. 10 and offered $500 each by Facebook. 

"They said they felt that our problem and our solution to the problem was very creative and important," Florez said about her student's "four-layer solution" to ransomware targeted towards small businesses and schools. It includes initiatives to educate users on how to spot malicious software, and a computer code used to detect it.  

Florez said her students have no plans yet on what, if anything, they will do with their project, but a student has made the code they developed available to download online, for free as open source software.  

“The experience that they gained in solving a real world problem is very meaningful.” Florez said.

PV project shows vaping substances

A group of students from Piedra Vista High School tackled the real world problem of teen vaping in their project. The team created a prototype for a device that showed the residual substances found in the liquid solutions used in e-cigarettes and the aerosol vapor produced in the process of using e-cigarette products.

"It's pretty relevant in the news today," said Piedra Vista High School 11th and 12th grade science teacher, and coach for the Piedra Vista team, Kevin Beckner, "Even though they didn't place, they got a lot of good feedback from Presbyterian Medical Center, which was one of the only healthcare representatives in the competition." 

The contest's governmental sponsor praised the event's participants.

"New Mexico has absolutely unlimited potential," said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in a prepared release. "And this competition is an incredible showcase of the ingenuity and passion of so many bright, talented New Mexicans. I'm thrilled and inspired by the work of these students and grateful for their effort. It's a reminder to all: New Mexico's best and brightest are on the cutting edge of the science and technology advancements that will define our shared future.”

Sam Ribakoff is a visual journalist for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-333-5283 or via email at

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