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Rising eighth graders Veda Murthy of Rachel Carson Middle School and Varsha Gunda of Nysmith School knew that climate change was a critical issue. Armed with their passion about the environment and knowledge of biology, the students were ready to create a solution. 

“We are all affected by climate change. Humans are the main contributors, as we use fossil fuels and have harmful actions on the environment,” said Gunda. “We wanted to bring awareness to the issue and create a powerful solution to bring down carbon emissions. The next generation has to make a difference.” 

Murthy and Gunda came together to invent a way to reduce carbon emissions with the creation of their carbon sink pellets. “We looked into different solutions for carbon emissions. We realized the ocean is a carbon sink but it’s in overuse, so we need another way to reduce carbon,” said Murthy. “So we set out to create a new carbon sink under our feet, our soil. We enhanced the soil capacity to absorb carbon with our pellets. The point is to use decomposing materials to help the soil.” Their pellets are placed in the ground and help the soil soak up more carbon, assisting the soil with its natural process of absorption.

The pair decided to enter their pellets in a science competition called eCybermission, which is an U.S. Army-based competition geared towards promoting self-discovery and the real-life applications of STEM. Murthy had participated in the competition before, and this time asked her friend Gunda to join her. “We met through online classes and extracurriculars. We both enjoy debate and biology, we like the same topics,” explained Murthy. “COVID made it easier to collaborate virtually. I asked Varsha to compete with me this year since we both know how harmful carbon emissions are and we wanted to make a difference.” 

Murthy and Gunda created their team the “CQuestrators” for eCybermission and competed against 1,295 teams in sixth through ninth grades. With only 2 percent of teams making it to nationals, the CQuestrators proved their idea was novel as they came in first in the Commonwealth of Virginia, advanced to regionals, and came in first in the Northeast region in their category. 

“We wanted to make a difference as our carbon footprint is too big, the Earth cannot handle it. It has a huge impact on Northern Virginia as it affects our health and people get more allergies and asthma,” said Gunda. “The Chesapeake is getting more acidic as we are destroying our ecosystems. It also has been causing extreme weather events that can lead to mass destruction as natural disasters are a problem.”

The girls went on to compete with their carbon pellets at the national level of eCybermission at the end of June. “Veda and Varsha won the National Award for seventh grade.  They also won the STEM in Action grant, which gives them $5,000 to implement their solution,” said the team advisor, Sharmila Murthy. “They also won the Army Core Value award in the ECyber Competition. The CQuestrators are truly honored and thrilled.” 

The girls are now working with FCPS to implement the pellets around the county to reduce carbon. They are also focused on ensuring the pellets are thoroughly tested. The students want to be able to distribute their pellets so everyone can help make a difference. “Our next goal is to bring awareness to the community and next generations so they can have an impact and can stop the crisis,” said Murthy.

Murthy and Gunda are certainly students to keep an eye on as they implement their novel carbon sink pellets in the ground to help the community and the environment.

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