Education News

Clarity clearing up air pollution at AQMD in Diamond Bar

By Richard Irwin Staff Writer
San Gabriel Valley Tribune

August 19, 2010

clean car
Benjamin Galindo, 7, checks out a hybrid vehicle as David Madsen,
senior public information specialist for the AQMD, talks about alternative
fuel vehicles. (Sarah Reingewirtz / Staff Photographer)

The new Honda Clarity is one sweet ride. And maybe by the time 11-year-old Lizzette Zepeda of Hacienda Heights gets her driver's license, this revolutionary car will help clear the skies over the San Gabriel Mountains.

But on Aug. 11, the mountains were only a hazy outline from the lab windows of the Air Quality Management District headquarters in Diamond Bar.

Head chemist Steve Barbosa explained how car exhaust created smog in the hot California sunlight; and how the AQMD measured it in the glistening laboratory.

"I used to live in Glendora, then I moved to Temecula," Barbosa said. "That's when I realized the sky was really blue."

The kids from the Youth Science Center listened attentively as the chemist showed how his lab tested samples from 34 monitoring sites.

Steve Barbosa, an AQMD chemist, discusses air pollution
with the Youth Science Center during a field trip on Aug.
11. (Sarah Reingewirtz / Staff Photographer)

But the students and parents perked up when the tour lead them down to the alternate-powered vehicles in the parking garage.

That's when they got to inspect Honda's most advanced vehicle, as well as some hybrid cars and car pool vans powered on natural gas.

Clarity's FCEV was certainly the star of the show. The Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle doesn't create smog, if anything, it creates fog. That is because the Honda's exhaust is pure water vapor.

"If you condense it in a cup you can drink it. The water is that clear," said the AQMD's Larry Watkins.

Watkins is clearly a big fan of the new electric vehicle, which the AQMD has leased for $600 a month. Drivers don't even have to plug this car in, a revolutionary fuel cell generates electricity as the car rolls along.

"The Clarity runs on hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe," Watkins said.

The hydrogen combines with oxygen from the atmosphere to create electricity. A powerful electric motor drives the front wheels.

"This car gets more than 60 miles per gallon," Watkins told the interested students.

The Honda website notes the Clarity is three times as efficient as a compact gasoline car and twice as efficient as a compact hybrid vehicle.

Of course, there are only a couple dozen fuel cell cars running around Los Angeles now. They're driven by some high profile celebrities, including actress Jamie Lee Curtis, "Avatar" producer Jon Landau and Anaheim Ducks team captain Scott Niedermayer.

The car company expects to lease 200 cars over the next three years. They're only available in Southern California in order to have access to service and fuel.

"We have 12 hydrogen refueling stations in the area now, but we're putting in more every year," Watkins told the kids.

Naturally, everyone wanted to sit in the high-tech car.

Larry Watkins of AQMD shows off the Honda Clarity, a
compressed hydrogen vehicle, to members of the Youth
Science Center. (Sarah Reingewirtz / Staff Photographer)

Eight-year-old Jeren Huang of Rowland Heights joined the others gathering around the vehicles.

"He loves science. He likes the summer classes and field trips offered by the Youth Science Center," admitted his mother Cynthia Chang.

Zepeda said her 7-year-old brother, Jose, was a "science whiz."

"My kids really enjoy these tours. They're very educational," said their mother, Adriana.

Earlier this summer, the Youth Science Center visited the Braille Institute, Baxco Pharmaceutical in Walnut and the County Sanitation District.

"The students really enjoy the field trips, so we try to plan some interesting new ones every summer," said the center's chairman Ron Chong, "Last Friday, we took a great tour of the Northrop Grumman Fighter Production Facility in El Segundo."

Right now, the parents and students were learning all about air pollution in the Los Angeles basin.

"Consider the AQMD the local cops on the pollution beat," explained David Madsen, senior public information specialist.

The district covers the Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties. Madsen said this includes 17 million residents and their 16 million cars.

"When I was a boy, I had to breathe gasoline vapors that had lead in it. California was the first state to get the lead out of gasoline," he recalled.

Los Angeles has always had air pollution problems because it is circled by mountains.

"Explorer Juan Cabrillo called San Pedro the Bay of Smoke because of the layer of smoke covering it from all the fires," Madsen said.

Today, the AQMD spokesman says 80 percent of the smog comes from vehicles. Pollution causes many health issues such as asthma.

"There are 2 and a half million people with asthma in Los Angeles, including 500,000 children," he said.

This air pollution causes 6,200 premature deaths every year, as well as 980,000 lost work days.

But there are things everyone can do to help cut down on air pollution.

"There's not one big solution, but there's a combination of solutions that will help," Madsen said.

In one year, for example, an old gas lawn mower will cause as much pollution as a new car driven 86,000 miles. That's why AQMD has given away 12,000 new electric mowers.

And families can consider buying new vehicles that give off low emissions, such as a hybrid.

Or maybe even a car like the Honda Clarity that has ZERO emissions. SWEET!

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Summer of science at Youth Science Center in Hacienda Heights

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer
San Gabriel Valley Tribune

July 14, 2010

Science teacher Teddy Sachs cheers as students Jonathan Tan, 8, and Calvin Chen, 7, watch a hard boiled egg get sucked into a jar during the "sonic egg" class exercise for the Science Tricks and Trivia class at Wedgeworth Elementary School in Hacienda Heights. (Watchara Phomicinda / Staff Photographer)

Children's imaginations soar in the summertime, when they have free time to explore subjects that interest them.

They aren't forced to study the three R's, but feel free to investigate the interesting universe that surrounds them.

This is especially true at the Youth Science Center in Hacienda Heights, which springs to life with more than 100 classes for the youngster to choose from every summer.

The emphasis is on fun, but the students can't help but learn from the fascinating courses offered at the Wedgeworth campus.

Even the class titles show a bit of whimsy. There's "Toys in Space," "Motor Mania," "Trip the Light Fantastic," "Air - It's More than Just for Breathing," "Creepy Crawlies" and "Let's Measure Everything."

 From left, Jason Smith, 6, Rebecca Frey, 5, and Charley Soo, 6, pet a lab mouse during the mammals class exercise for the Animals with Class. (Watchara Phomicinda / Staff Photographer)

"Wow! That's cool," Claire Burnley cooed as a balloon shot across the room while attached to a string by a drinking straw.

The 6-year-old was studying the principles of flight in her "Fly, Fly Away" class.

Flight instructor Patrice Stanzione was teaching the youngsters about thrust and drag. She used the party balloon to demonstrate thrust.

"We've already made airplanes and flying saucers in our class," Stanzione said.

Sawyer Valin, 4, and Darren Kuo, 5, of Hacienda Heights watched excitedly as the class experimented with the flying balloons.

In a nearby classroom, Carleen Miranada Jimenez was concentrating on balls, ramps and roller coasters - which was good because that's the name of the class.

The 7-year-old had already shaped a clay ball that rolled the farthest during a recent experiment.

"My ball rolled 90 centimeters," the young scientist from San Jose Edison Academy in West Covina noted.

The next day, the class was going to build ramps under the careful supervision of teacher Pat Smith. She's also the science coordinator for the Whittier City School District.

But today, the students had to build balls from three different materials. They then had to draw a cross-section of their orbs, describing its construction.

Omar Venegas decided to use cotton balls, a balloon and tin foil.

"I want to make a silver balloon," the 8-year-old explained.

The Los Robles student said he would like to become a builder when he grows up. Some day, the Hacienda Heights lad thinks he might even build a roller coaster.

"I've been on all the rides at Knott's Berry Farm," Venegas noted. "You just have to overcome your fear."

Brandon Kwan, 7, said the class has been "fun."

Just down the walk, Andrea Brown was teaching a class on the Earth's hydrosphere. She's been teaching at the Youth Science Center for many years.

"It's great. This is hands-on science that teaches the kids how to think," Brown reflected.

Nine-year-old Edgar Magana was especially excited about the class. When asked why he decided to take this summer course, the fourth-grader at Los Robles replied, "It's something I don't know about. I think it's interesting."

Joshua Shiroishi, 7, of Walnut and Saylor Valin, 8, of Hacienda Heights agreed that this summer school was "lots of fun."

The center's CEO Ling-Ling Chang said enrollment has been down a little because of the economy.

"But there have been lots of new parents sending their children, so generally we're doing well," she said.

Chang emphasized that the Youth Science Center teaches to California curriculum standards and uses credentialed teachers.

Eventually, the center would like to build its own freestanding building. It currently uses classrooms at Wedgeworth Elementary School.

Ron Chong, chairman of the board of directors, said the center appreciates all the support it receives from local community and businesses.

"Just today, we received $10,000 from Quemetco Inc. in Industry. This was the second year the battery recycler has given us $10,000 for our programs," Chong pointed out.

Chang added that Southern California Edison had given the center a $6,500 grant, so it could offer free summer classes at Baldwin Academy in La Puente.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe also contributed $5,000 for scholarships at the local science center.

The weeklong classes continue through the end of July. Class fees range from $55 to $100.

That's a small price to pay to stimulate kids' imaginations during the long summer vacation.

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Hacienda Heights Youth Science Center takes flying carpet ride

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer
San Gabriel Valley Tribune

August 12, 2009

Do they make flying carpets?

That's what Lauren Marquez of Anaheim Hills wondered as her family toured Bentley Prince Street Carpets in Industry on Aug. 7.

The 8-year-old Aussie from Sydney pondered the problem as Valerie Ottaviano, vice president for design, welcomed the group from the Youth Science Center in Hacienda Heights.

Strangely enough, the Industry company actually does make "flying carpets," if you consider the custom carpets it makes for corporate jets.

Or the 100,000 square yards of broadloom carpet it made for Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China. Makes you wonder if the visitors to this busy airport realize they're walking on a carpet that's "Made in America."

"That's the largest order we've ever gotten," Ottaviano noted proudly.

Bentley Prince Street was awarded the contract by the Chinese Ministry of Aviation after a rigorous bidding process that included an in-depth review of the local company.

"This was the first airport in China to use broadloom carpet in a major public space, so it was critical for us to deliver a first-class product that worked for the airport on every level," said Anthony Minite, president of Bentley Prince Street.

But for this tour, the company was keeping things simple for the students and parents touring the sprawling factory on Don Julian Road.

The kids got to see the whole process, from carpet design to finished product.

The vice president of design pulled the youngsters into the design studio. There they got to see the special carpet design used for the U.S. presidential inauguration in January.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden were sworn into office standing on the company's Kings Road carpet. The red-and-blue carpet cascaded down the Capitol's step.

Bentley Prince Street also designed the "green" carpet used for the Green Inaugural Ball. Made of 10 percent recycled material, the carpet's environmental impact was offset by the purchase of verified emissions reductions credits through the company's Cool Carpet program.

The "green" carpet was made in a "green" factory. Bentley Prince Street was the first carpet mill in the country to get a silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council for its energy and environmental design.

A large solar cell farm shares the company parking lot. The shining panels turn sunlight into electricity for the power hungry mills.

"When we installed our solar panels, we were the biggest, privately owned solar installation," said Kim Matsoukas, director of sustainability.

The kids also got to see the carpet designed for the Keebler Cookie Company.

"They liked it so much they sent us cases of cookies," Ottaviano told the tour group.

She noted that the company is now working on new carpeting for the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.

"You'll see the new Staples design on the mills down on the factory floor," she said.

The children really enjoyed the Zoom Room. This design studio allows customers to see how their carpet design will look in a full-size virtual room.

As the students huddled on the floor, Maggie Pena projected a virtual classroom on the screen. Then the product developer selected different carpet designs.

The families oohed and aahed as the virtual room morphed into a library, an office, a lobby and even an aircraft cabin.

"Customers like to see how a pattern will look in a full-scale room. If they give us digital photos of their building, we can put that into our computers and show them how our carpets will look in them," Pena said.

Lauren's mother, Roser, asked how long it takes to design a new carpet for a customer.

"With our computers, we can design a carpet and send you a digital rendering of it in 48 hours. Before, it would take us 14 days to make a carpet sample," Ottaviano said.

Matsoukas led the science center group on a short tour of the factory. She explained that Bentley Prince Street promises to eliminate any negative impact on the environment by 2020.

"We already recycle 95 percent of our material," Matsoukas said, pointing to large recycling bins scattered around the factory floor.

In 2008, the Industry firm received the Evergreen Award from the U.S. General Services Administration. This award recognizes recycling efforts and waste reduction.

On the factory floor, large carpet mills loomed. Nylon thread was stored in huge rolls, ready to race through hundreds of plastic tubes to the waiting mills.

The tour group was fascinated by the dye lab, where technicians can produce almost any color for custom carpets.

Nine-year-old Kacie Ting and her mother, Ruth, gingerly walked out onto a catwalk over the large dye vat. They watched as the pristine white carpet was colored for a customer.

The new carpet will soak up the new color, then be dried. After a backing is added, the carpet is shipped to the customer.

Not only is Bentley Prince Street trying to be good to the environment, it's good to its employees. Last week, "L.A. Business Journal" named the local company the second best place to work in Los Angeles County.

"We've been selected the past three years," Ottaviano said.

The company has a gym with trainers for its 300 employees. It is open from 5 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

"We can also schedule massages and attend lectures on health and wellness," said Cindy Estridge, marketing project manager.

Guess making flying carpets isn't the only magic that this local manufacturer offers.

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Putting the fun back in science

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer
San Gabriel Valley Tribune

August 9, 2007

The blue-tongued skink flicked its blue tongue in greeting as the students entered the classroom.

Inside, 9-year-old Chad Fournier slowly pulled a huge gopher snake out of his sleeve. Fortunately, the cold-blooded reptile had swallowed a rat the day before so Chad was in no peril.

"The snake is from Australia, he just wants to get warm," the smiling youngster explained. "I love reptiles. I even have a tarantula at home for a pet."


Around the room, other students proudly displayed all manner of creatures that slink about. Corn snake, milk snake, king snake.

The beasties came in a surprising rainbow of colors, ranging in size from slim whipcords to some the size of your arm.

But it was all in a day of fun during the summer classes at the Youth Science Center at Wedgeworth Elementary School in Hacienda Heights. Director Phyllis Vandeventer boasts that a wide range of "science" classes attracted more than 460 kids from kindergarten to eighth-grade.

Even the course names were intriguing. Beam Me Up, Kitchen Chemistry, From Pythons to Polliwogs, Circuit Cities, The Atoms Family.

The instructors certainly seemed to be having a good time, explaining why some had come out of retirement to teach the summer classes.

"I love teaching the kids about reptiles," said Paul Craig, a retired eighth-grade teacher from East Whittier.

Fellow retiree Lyle Majeska came out of retirement to show the children how to build their own rockets. The former electronics instructor at La Puente High School seemed as proud of the sleek rockets as the children.

"We're going to launch them tomorrow," bragged 7-year-old Sydney Owen.


But don't expect the colorful comet to crash and burn, Owen packed a parachute in the nosecone to allow it to float slowly back to earth.

In a classroom nearby, other student were programming their Mars rovers. It was a Jr. JPL filled with tiny scientists, only without the pocket protectors.

"The science center is fun because it's so hands-on," said Sara Bach, a 27-year-old substitute teacher in the Rowland Unified School District.

The little engineers kneeled in front of their laptop computers, carefully programing the roving robots.

"You have to tell the robot what direction and how fast you want it to go," said 10-year-old Eric Moffitt.

But why send a roving robot to Mars?

"They're searching for signs of water to see if there has ever been life on Mars," the nascent NASA employee noted.

He didn't take kindly to a suggestion that he take his robot to the rocket class next door and blast it off into the cosmos.

Pat Stanzione's anatomy class was much friendlier, waving their phalanges (fingers to the rest of us) to the class visitor.

"We're teaching the second- and third-graders all about their bodies," the speech teacher in the Hacienda-La Puente Unified School District said.

The kids had built paper constructs with crumbled paper as brains and straws as bones. Red yarn traced the body's arteries, while blue represented the veins.

So how many bones are there in the human body?

"206," squeaked one of the precocious physicians.

Across the way, Alex Gutierrez was getting over her fear of bugs in the Backyard Entomology class.

"I thought they were scary, but now I like them because I know they won't hurt you," the 9-year-old said.

Tell that to the giant Madagascar hissing beetle in the nearby terrarium.

"He's only hissing to scare you," said Ansel Deng as he reached in to pick up the huge black bug. "I think earwigs are my favorite, but snails are fun, too."


"I love teaching about bugs," said Lynda Swink, a mild-mannered elementary teacher from the Pomona Unified School District.

Many of the teachers return year after year.

"I really love teaching at the science center because it's very hands on for the kids," said Andrea Brown, who has been teaching there for the past 17 years.

Her son, Jason, remembers taking classes when he was only 5 years old. Today, Jason teaches bridge building, CO2 dragsters and robotics.

"It's really nice that the science center has become so successful. Many of our students have gone to college and several are studying for their PHDs," said Ron Chong, who founded the center with his wife, Judy, in 1984.

The science center also offered summer classes at the Baldwin Academy in La Puente, Cogswell Elementary and Madrid Middle School, both in El Monte.

The one-week classes cost between $29 to $82 per student. Grants pay for scholarships for students who need them.

While the summer schedule has ended in Hacienda Heights, the classes have just begun in El Monte.

Now if kids can only find that leopard geiko that was missing. What exactly is an omnivore anyways?

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Slimy Science

By Robert S. Hong, Tribune Staff Writer


SOUTH EL MONTE — The 3-foot kingsnake coiled around the 7-year-old's arm traced its head slowly from side to side. Its tongue darted in and out as it inched itself toward Mario Covrrubias' face, but the boy showed no fear as he simply stroked the serpent's head, describing why the scaley reptile had captured his attention.

"He's a king snake and he can curl around everything," Mario said. "He's my favorite because he wraps around and holds on." This relatively passive snake was one of the many reptiles available for students to hold and learn about during the Mountain View School District's summer Science Academy at Cogswell Elementary School.

The program — which allows students to learn more about science through an entertaining and hands-on approach — was provided in large part through a grant from the San Gabriel Valley Learning Center.

Along with reptiles, students learned about outer space and some beginning chemistry, with all classes taught by instructors from the Youth Science Center in Hacienda Heights.

"We go through each animal and talk about its special characteristics," said Kristen Cooke, who taught first- through third-graders enrolled in the program. She was aided in her instruction by her father, former Whittier science teacher Paul Craig. On July 18, Cooke and Craig gave a lively description of how snakes hunt, and how some reptiles can regenerate their fangs. Surrounding the students were terrariums full of colorful snakes, a gecko and a blue-tongued skink.

On the other side of campus, a group of older students were also engaged in some hands-on work. But instead of playing with slimy reptiles, these students were making some slime of their own. Under the direction of teacher Patrice Stanzione, these fourth- through sixth-graders were using household items to concoct all types of slippery substances — from silly putty to homemade ice cream.

"This gives them a baseline for chemistry," Stanzione said. Incoming sixth-grader Rachel Sikes twisted pipe cleaner into snowflake designs to be added to the chemical borax to create a crystal effect.

"This is not something I would learn in school normally, but this is something I would like to learn," the 11-year-old said.

Next to her, fellow sixth-grader Crystal Ly flipped her pancake-shaped blob of slime onto her desk, creating a thin air bubble. "It's squishy, it's stretchy and it rips easily," she said contentedly.

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