Getting rid of the problem of algal blooms in the Everglades is a problem that has fascinated Gulliver Prep senior Philip Gubbins. He’s been the project manager on an engineering project to solve the problem. Gubbins is also involved in Gulliver’s FIRST Robotics program.
Because of those interests, Gubbins is Gulliver’s Silver Knight Nominee in the Vocational Technical category.
“We are trying to solve the prevalence of algal blooms,” he says. “They create dead zones. It takes the sunlight from the water, it covers the surface, it takes oxygen from the water. Fish die, plant dies, you have toxic blooms.”
Gubbins says the problem is not confined to the Everglades. It happens across the state, across the nation and across the globe. In the U.S., the Great Lakes has had outbreaks as have twenty-something states.
He and his team have approached the issue from an engineering standpoint.
“It’s another problem to be solved by understanding the design process for solving an issue,” he says. “You apply knowledge from experts.”
Among others, they consulted a Gulliver teacher with a PhD in geological studies who teaches environmental science and is also knowledgeable about marine biology.
Gubbins says the problem isn’t the blooms that cover the waterways, the problem is what causes the plants to bloom. That’s caused by fertilizer that runs off into the waterways from farms in the area.
They created a device that helps deal with the issues.
“We basically took what aquarium enthusiasts do,” he says. “It all has to do with the nutrients – there are too many nutrients in the water.
The device takes the bacteria and nutrients out of the water via turbulence.
“It’s motorized. You need to supply power to it,” he says. “We tried hard not to do that but it was necessary.”
Much of the work done was geared to enter in design competitions. Originally, they entered the Everglades Foundation George Barley Water Science Prize. They didn’t win but they did win the PLTW Design Competition called Project Lead the Way. They won in April and they presented to 2,000 educators in October.
At the moment, Gubbins is working on robots. He and his team are focused on the annual FIRST Robotics competition March 7-11 in Orlando.
“I took on the mantel of project manager,” he says.
Gubbins has participated in robotics since he was a freshman. He’s now training younger students so next year’s team is knowledgeable.
“I’m training them to have the skills to be successful,” he says. “I train them in project-based exercises. It’s all about that problem-solving process.
Gubbins is also an athlete. He swims on the Varsity Two team and he plays water polo.
He made it to the regionals for swimming even though he doesn’t swim every day. Last year he swam breaststroke events but this year he swam in individual medley events.
He’s president of the Charitable Arts Club. Club members go to an inner-city school to paint with the kids several times a year. They take paintings created by the children and auction them off to raise money for a part-time art teacher at the school.
Through robotics, he works with children who attend Breakthrough Miami on science projects.
Where he’s going to college next year is still a question. He has been accepted to the University of Miami and Villanova. He’s been deferred by one college and is still waiting on several colleges to send out their acceptances. He expects to major in engineering, possibly mechanical.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld