LOS ANGELES (June 14, 2012) – The student engineering team at Sun Valley High School of the Los Angeles Unified School District took first place recently in the experimental portion of Aerospace Corp.’s 35th Annual Robert H. Herndon Science Competition.

The contest, held June 7 in El Segundo, drew schools from across Los Angeles County, with students competing in the essay and experimental categories. But after the competition was ended, the Sun Valley team carried out an act of kindness that was as impressive as their scientific research.

The team, composed of five students, each received $600 for its first-place finish. But all of them gave $100 of their winnings to Jesus Pena, a fellow student, who assisted them but was not on the team. This act of kindness allowed the students, six in all, to share $500 in total.

The principal, Paul Del Rosario, applauded their kindness. “We are a small school and students get to interact with everyone on our small campus, and that creates a feeling of community,” Del Rosario said. “That played a large role in the generosity of the students.”

He added: “It’s heartwarming to see our students showing their generosity toward a fellow student.”

The team’s research was titled, “A Renewable Energy Source for the Third World.” They identified a problem and tried to engineer a solution by replacing kerosene lamps. This would give poor people in developing countries a better quality of life by lighting their homes with a LED lamp powered by an integrated system proposed by the Sun Valley students. 

Their system consisted of creating a piezoelectric electric tree that gathers energy from the wind. They also created a rechargeable battery system to store energy gathered from the tree, and developed an electrical circuit that extracts almost all the energy from batteries that powers an LED lamp.

The team members are:

Carmen Garcia – She designed and fabricated the piezoelectric devices and branch and leaf design.

Christian Mendoza – He designed and fabricated the NiFe battery system.

Mario Murilla – He designed and fabricated the structure and function of the tree and base.

Sergio Ruelas – He designed and fabricated the Joule thief circuit.

Michelle Salazar – She helped design and fabricate the piezoelectric devices and branch and leaf design and the lead facilitator on the presentation.

Teamwork was the key to success. The team worked over seven months on the project after school and were mentored by the following personnel:

Dave Hicks – The lead teacher of the engineering team and a Science & Engineering teacher at Sun Valley High School.

Dale Cipra - A retired mechanical engineer at Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne, he was the vital linchpin to the team's success. His engineering and science expertise is vast and his patience, empathy and sincere interest in having a positive impact on the young people at Sun Valley High School proved invaluable. He invested a significant amount of his own finances on materials so that students could have the necessary resources for this project. Most importantly, his expenditure of mentoring “elbow time” has been highly-influential on the team. He is the team’s true champion.

Angela Yamagata – A mathematics & engineering teacher at Sun Valley High School, she Yamagata spent countless hours with the team well after the school day had ended at 3 p.m. She advised the students and encouraged them in multiple areas of the project.

Others who contributed to the team's success were:

Jesus Pena – While not an official member of the team, (five was the maximum allowed) he contributed multiple hours in assisting members. He even helped give presentations when a member couldn't be at a scheduled practice. He has a work ethic that is the envy of all. The five members, who each received a $600 prize, contributed $100 from their individual winnings to him. The team recognized his contribution to their victory by giving him an equal share.

Oliver Ambrosia – An Electrical Engineer at Aerospace Corp., he contributed significantly as an advisor. He also helped troubleshoot the presentation and provided further understanding of complex electrical circuitry.

Jonathan Pahed – A Mechanical Engineer at Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne, he spent a few days a month mentoring, interacting and advising students on the project.

Gene Goldstein – A retired Electrical Engineer at Raytheon Corp, he was an adviser on the team’s presentation, and final overall project.

Daniel McDonnell – A science teacher at Sun Valley, he helped the team with their presentation skills and with their research poster.

Paul Del Rosario – The school’s principal purchased from his own pocket materials used to create a professional research paper, contributing greatly to the team’s success.