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NMMI cadets receive STEM Challenge prizes

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New Mexico Military Institute Assistant Professor of Sciences Maj. Demvia Maslian is seen Tuesday handing out prizes received by members of a cadet team who were among the winners in the New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge. (Submitted Photo)

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A group of New Mexico Military Institute cadets were winners in a state competition after developing an all-natural, non-alcohol-based hand-sanitizer.

Nine high school students belonging to the school’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Club participated along with 33 other school teams in the 2020 New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge.

The group was chosen as one of the 18 winning teams, with Facebook as the corporate sponsor that selected the NMMI team for recognition.

A team from Roswell High School also won for a solar-powered prosthetic limb it developed, as previously reported. Deloitte was the corporate sponsor for the Roswell High team.

Cadets received their prizes Tuesday, which included a $500 prize each, awarded after cadets turned in the product and their reports.

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The cadets are Ivan Belyaev, Vincent Carpio-Torres, Yuhyun Kim, Jeajoon Lee, Ryan Lee, Lauren Leonard, Richard Sampson-Jones, Kyunghoon Yeom and Yoo Young Gun.

Maj. Demvia Maslian, assistant professor of sciences, and Lt. Col. Frank Kimbler, associate professor of geology and earth sciences, served as the faculty mentors for the project, officially called “Antimicrobial Use of Pecan Shells and Prickly Pear Aqueous Extracts as a Hand Sanitizer.”

One of the rules of the Dec. 12 virtual competition, Kimbler said, was that students had to use resources and materials from New Mexico. The cadets chose pecan shell waste and cacti gel. They also had to solve a problem affecting the local, state, national or international community.

One of the most important outcomes of the project, according to Kimbler, was that the hand-sanitizer proved effective.

“It worked,” said Kimbler. “They tested it using bacteria in the labs here at NMMI.”

Maslian said the product kept bacteria down by 80% to 70% in the experimental treated samples compared to control samples of untreated bacteria.

Both he and Maslian said the product felt good on the hands, similar to a moisturizer. They also said the sanitizer stayed on the hands until it was washed off. But there was a slight issue.

“The smell was pretty bad,” Kimbler said. “It felt good on the hands, and it left a nice coating. But even when it dried, it didn’t smell very good.”

Kimbler said he still considered it a good product. Maslian added that some commercially available hand-sanitizers don’t smell good, either.

One of the cadets has a mother who works in patent law, Kimbler said, so the group might try to obtain a patent and market the product, once they figure out which essential oils to add to improve the aroma. But that would take some time and funds, and the competition isn’t meant to provide that. NMMI could apply for grants, however, to develop this product or the one from a previous year.

Another good outcome was team camaraderie, Kimbler said.

“We have a lot of students here from other countries,” he said. “We are talking about students born in the United States. We are talking about students born in Korea and Vietnam. We are talking about students from Mexico. They come together and work together as a team. And they work well together. It is absolutely amazing to see that because it seems like there is no barrier.”

Seven of the cadets are due to graduate this year, but the remaining cadets have expressed an interest in the 2021 competition and possibly participating in a global competition.

A 2019 NMMI team also won, the only team from Roswell to be chosen that year. NMMI was one of 41 teams and 19 winners. Freeport McMoRan Inc. selected the group for its prototype of a biometric triage drone.

The drone was designed to locate people after a major accident or disaster, obtain vital health information and communicate that to medical crews in remote locations. Kimbler said the mining company thought the drone could have applications for monitoring the health of its workers in mining shafts.

Led by the New Mexico Office of the Governor, the STEM Challenge also involves New Mexico State University, the Department of Public Education, the Department of Workforce Solutions, Los Alamos National Laboratory and 18 other STEM employers in the state.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.