Thursday, April 24, 2014

Davis sisters shine in national science competition

Sisters Tess, 8, and Lyla, 5, Boutin explain their "Flying Photocatalytic Pollution Frog," which won the regional division of their age group of the ExploraVision science competition. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Two young Davis students with a passion for the environment are among 24 teams nationwide advancing to the finals of the world’s largest K-12 science and technology competition.

Tess Boutin, a third-grader at Davis School for Independent Study, and her sister Lyla, a kindergartner at Peregrine School, invented the “Flying Photocatalytic Pollution Frog,” which could eat airplane pollution much like a frog eats insects. For their innovative project, they are one of six teams in the K-3 age group and 24 overall to be named regional winners in the Toshiba/National Science Teachers Association ExploraVision science competition.

The girls were honored in a ceremony at DSIS in March and now await word on whether they will earn a trip to Washington, D.C., in June. Later this month, they’ll meet with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who invited the girls to his office so he could learn more about their idea.

Since its inception in 1992, the ExploraVision competition asks students to imagine ideas for future technologies that could exist in 20 years. Past winners have envisioned technologies ranging from a self-cleaning toilet to a new method of treating diabetes.

Students compete in one of four grade-level divisions: K-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10-12.

Tess and Lyla began working on their entry last fall, with their mom, Kristen Olotka, serving as a mentor and DSIS teacher Cathy Scarr as coach.

They decided to focus on a technology that would deal with air pollution, Tess said, “because we were concerned about (it) contributing to global warming and health problems.”

The sisters envisioned a device that would attach to an airplane engine and spray photocatalytic materials behind it. Those materials would then interact with sunlight and help to decompose harmful pollutants in the atmosphere, scrubbing the air clean.

At first, Tess said, they imagined the device operating similar to a vacuum, but decided that would be too complex and might actually hinder the airplane’s thrust.

“Lyla came up with the idea of a frog,” Tess said.

“It would eat pollution like a frog eats insects,” Lyla explained.

They actually constructed a large model demonstrating how the pollution frog would work, then built a smaller version that they brought to the DSIS ceremony in March.

For their invention to actually hit the market, breakthroughs would have to occur, Tess said. Those would include someone building the sprayers and filters needed, as well as figuring out how to compensate for things like humidity and wind during flight. But the benefits would be worth the effort, the girls said.

Those benefits include cleaning pollution from the atmosphere, at a relatively low cost, while keeping planes cleaner.

“I hope for your generation and all future generations, the flying pollution frog becomes a flying success,” Toshiba’s Jeff Griffen told the girls at the ceremony.

Added Superintendent Winfred Roberson: “I am so proud of you.

“What an example of STEM education,” he said, referring to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “I think you ladies have a wonderful (future) ahead of you.”

The ceremony was a culmination of lots of hard work, with Lyla taking on much of the diagramming and building and Tess helping with all of that as well as doing much of the writing involved.

But there is still work ahead for the young sisters.

For the national judging, the girls had to put together a video and website explaining their project. They will find out at the end of April if they are one of two teams in their age group who will receive all-expenses-paid trips to the nation’s capital. There, they would experience a gala awards weekend complete with a visit to Capitol Hill, a science showcase and sightseeing.

Just knowing they were in the running for that was excitement enough.

When their mom told them they were regional winners, Lyla began doing backflips on the couch, Tess said.

“Lyla’s reaction was a bit overstated,” she explained. “I was a bit understated.”

If Tess was understated, it may well be because of all the successes she’s had in recent years.

All of 8 years old, she has already had poetry published in an anthology of Davis poetry as well as in Spider magazine and has even done her share of public speaking.

Her abiding interest in saving the environment has prompted her to write a letter to the Davis City Council urging a ban on plastic bags. That letter led to subsequent appearances and speeches before not just the City Council, but also the Natural Resources Commission in Davis as well as the California Public Interest Research Group.

“I talked about how they should ban plastic bags because they are bad for the environment,” Tess said at the time.

Soon, she will learn if her environmental activism will land her on the national stage.

Learn more about the ExploraVision competition at

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy

Anne Ternus-Bellamy


Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .


    4-H members get ready for Spring Show

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Will city move forward on public power review?

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

    2 pursuits, 2 arrests keep Woodland officers busy

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    Obama to Russia: More sanctions are ‘teed up’

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Youth sports in focus on radio program

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Rummage sale will benefit preschool

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Concert benefits South Korea exchange

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Conference puts focus on Arab studies

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Central Park Gardens to host Volunteer Orientation Day

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Volkssporting Club plans North Davis walks

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Hotel/conference center info meeting set

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Davis honors ‘green’ citizens

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Water rate assistance bill advances

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Program explores STEM careers for girls

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

    Embroiderers plan a hands-on project

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    MOMS Club plans open house

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    Cycle de Mayo benefits Center for Families

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A8

    Author to read ‘The Cat Who Chose to Dream’

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A12



    Things are turning sour

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

    Ortiz is the right choice for Yolo

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

    The high cost of employment

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

    High-five to Union Bank

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Broken sprinklers waste water

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Three more administrators?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Neustadt has experience for the job

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Here’s a plan to save big on employee costs

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6, 3 Comments

    Davis is fair, thoughtful

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6



    DHS boys shuffle the deck to beat Cards

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    DHS/Franklin II is a close loss for Devil softballers

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    DHS tracksters sweep another DVC meet

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Another DVC blowout for DHS girls soccer

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1, 2 Comments | Gallery

    Young reinvents his game to help Aggies improve on the diamond

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Baseball roundup: Giants slam Rockies in the 11th

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    UCD roundup: Aggies lose a softball game at Pacific

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

    Jahn jumps to Sacramento Republic FC

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B8





    Emerson, Da Vinci to present ‘Once Upon a Mattress’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    Winters Plein Air Festival begins Friday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    Bach Soloists wrap up season on April 28

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A11

    Congressional art competition open to high school students

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11







    Comics: Thursday, April 24, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B6