Bright ideas, solid research and teamwork won four students from Wheatland Middle School, Wheatland, WY, a spot as finalists in the Christopher Columbus Awards, a nationwide program that challenges middle-school students to explore opportunities for positive change in their communities.

Eighth-graders Mikenzi Loyd, Kaylee Bloom, Elizabeth Pino, Viviana Hollister, and their coach, Miken Harnish, made it to the semifinals earlier this month, and are now one of six finalist teams in the country to compete for Gold Medals and U.S. Savings Bonds.

Because the mothers of two team members were involved in car accidents with large game animals, each hit a mule deer, the students became aware of the safety risks posed by large game (over 125 lb.) on the roads. They learned from a local Wyoming Highway Patrolman that there were three additional accidents involving a deer and two elk near their hometown within the same week of their mother’s accidents.

Using information gathered from the Wyoming Department of Transportation, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Highway Department as well as insurance companies and sources in Arizona and California, the team identified animal migration patterns, current safety methods being implemented along with their costs, and statistics on animal and human fatalities caused by large game automobile accidents to formulate their solution.

Through trial and error, the team developed infrared light sensors, that connect to standard flashing caution signs to indicate there is a big game animal near the road.

A panel of community leaders, scientists and experts in science education selected this idea as one of the top six entries in the U.S. More than 800 students and coaches participated nationwide.

The team and their coach won an all-expense-paid trip to the Walt Disney World® Resort, where they will compete in the Christopher Columbus Awards National Championship Week,
June 10-15, 2012.