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Joseph Macri, upper left, and Ashwin Prabhakar, upper right, placed second in nation in the Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision STEM Competition. The young men are sophomores at Bob Jones High School. Jessye Gaines is their mentor and teaches in Bob Jones Engineering Academy. CONTRIBUTED

Bob Jones’ Marci, Prabhakar rank second nationally with Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision

MADISON – Joe Macri and Ashwin Prabhakar, sophomores at Bob Jones High School, claimed second place in the nation in ExploraVision STEM Competition, sponsored by Toshiba Corporation and National Science Teaching Association or NSTA.

Along with their distinguished title as a national winner, Macri and Prabhakar each will receive a $5,000 U.S. Savings Bond.

“No other national winners are from the State of Alabama, and Joe and Ashwin were the youngest in their category of grades 10-12,” Jessye Gessner Gaines said. Gaines mentored Macri and Prabhakar and teaches with Bob Jones Engineering Academy.

Earlier this semester, both Bob Jones and James Clemens high schools won in regional meets in Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision. “The Bob Jones team of Ashwin and Joe were selected as regional winners, but now they also have been selected as national winners,” Gaines said.

Macri and Prabhakar tackled a contemporary crisis with their project, “An Artificial Intelligence-Based System to Neutralize Pesticides and Sustain Honey Bee Populations.” Their subject matter was uber-complex, as these three paragraphs demonstrate:

* “The goal of this project was to develop a system to protect pollinators like honey bees from pesticide toxicity. These pesticides bind to receptors in the nervous system of honey bees causing neurological dysfunction and subsequent death. To combat this, we present a novel peptide and bacteria based dual targeting system to mitigate the pesticide’s effects.”

* “Our autonomous solution comprises of a drone equipped with a machine learning algorithm to first identify crops and select the precise locations for pesticide neutralization. Next, the drone’s artificial intelligence system selectively dispenses an optimized concentration of formulations comprising of (a) synthetic peptides with high affinity to pesticides . . . and (b) bacteria mixtures with specific enzymes for rapid biodegradation of pesticides.”

* “Honey bees, one of the significant contributors of pollination in our ecosystem, are declining due to widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides. To overcome this, we present an automated system comprising of a drone integrated with machine learning algorithm for characterization of crops,” Macri and Prabhakar wrote.

“This is absolutely an amazing accomplishment,” Bob Jones Principal Sylvia Lambert said. “These are incredible and innovative young men. I am so very proud of them.”

Macri and Prabhakar participated virtually in an awards ceremony on June 4.

The National Science Teaching Association has headquarters in Arlington, Va. For more information, visit nsta.org.

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