Envisioning life on Mars


Students build an extraterrestrial world

Photo courtesy of Tim Cullina Kevin Mallon, left, Meg Hlousek, Claire Bowens and Christopher Davis use recyclable materials to build a model of a city on Mars

Eighth-graders at Chicago’s St. Barnabas Catholic School envision building a city on Mars called Lewis N Clark. The mythical city would be located in the fictional Jefferson Territory and named in honor of the historic pioneers who explored the west in the early 1800s.

"We made the transportation system to reduce traffic and pollution," says student Claire Bowens, referring to the magnetic monorail that would transport citizens.


Bowens and her teammates Kevin Mallon, Meg Hlousek, Christopher Davis and Robert Caruso developed this extraterrestrial municipality for the 2004 Future City Competition, a seventh- and eighth-grade educational program that is part of the National Engineers Week celebration at the end of February.

The students say the 250,000 residents of Lewis N Clark would live in a series of large domes and underground habitats. Water from under Mars’ surface would fill a natural planetary ravine to form a river running through the city.

Their design includes a 130-mile nanotube elevator that transports people, supplies and mining payloads between the city and spaceships flying overhead.

The project will be unveiled during the regional competition on Jan. 24 at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Regional first place winners will travel to the national finals in Washington, D.C.

An important part of each team is its volunteer mentor, whose job is to facilitate discussion and research. Mentors "peel the onion back on all different aspects of what makes a city work," says Tim Cullina, an environmental and safety engineer who has served as a mentor for St. Barnabas for five years. The 2001 St. Barnabas team, which included Cullina’s son, won the national competition with Maropolis, a city that floats on the ocean.

Future City "prepares students for life, and how math and science fit in," says director Carol Rieg. Only five regions participated in the first competition in 1993. Now there are 36 regions and more than 1,100 public and private school participants nationwide.

The project consists of four parts. Students create their future cities on a computer using SimCity 3000 software and write a 200-word abstract outlining the idea. Then they build a scale model of the city using recyclable materials on a $100 budget. Next, they give a five-minute presentation to judges about their project.

The final piece is a writing component that is unrelated to the team’s future city project. This year, the students are being asked to write a 500-word essay answering the question: How can plastics be used to help senior citizens in the future?

For more information, visit www.futurecity.org.



Damon P. Carroll, Medill News Service

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