Students at 2 Lawrence schools are finalists in the Battle of the Brains

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Groups of students at Hillcrest Elementary and Free State High School in Lawrence are finalists in the Battle of the Brains, a contest to envision a new exhibit at Science City.

The competition, hosted by Burns & McDonnell, received more than 740 entries from the Kansas City area. The Lawrence students’ ideas were selected among the top 10 in elementary and secondary entries, respectively.


Making it to the finals earned each group a $2,500 grant to go toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) initiatives at their schools. They could win $50,000 and a chance to bring their exhibits to life at Science City at Union Station in Kansas City.

Representatives of the company visited Lawrence on “battle buses” Thursday to congratulate the students on making it so far in the competition.

The Lawrence school district provided more information about the students’ exhibit ideas:

Hillcrest fourth graders Anna Lawrence, Milo Henry, Nora Mosher, Margot Langford, Owen Williams and Corrina Yi, under the direction of gifted education teacher Sarabeth Morgan, planned an exhibit called “Celestial Stops!” 

Hillcrest students and their teacher, Sarabeth Morgan, celebrate during the visit from the “battle bus.” (Burns & McDonnell / Contributed photo)

“In this exhibit, you’ll learn about all sorts of celestial bodies, including galaxies, stars, planets, black holes, and more. Explore the whole universe from Science City – no astronaut suit needed!” the students wrote.

“We thought a space maze would help kids learn about our galaxy. We also thought that having a station with mini planets that you can remove cross-section slices from would be cool so people can learn about what gas giants look like on the inside …” the pitch continues. “We want a more interactive exhibit that covers more of the celestial bodies in space in a kid-friendly way. Now hop in your rocket ship and zoom to Celestial Stops!”

The Free State High School team includes Adele Buren, Niko Eidemiller, Harper Finck, Isla Gnojek, Chloe Hannings, Zach Hansen Terry, Ethan Hart, Emmett Henry, Brendan Hethcoat, Ben Jackson, Connor MacFarland, Hope Northrop, Gillian Sellet and Sejun Yun.

Superintendent Anthony Lewis congratulates Free State students during the visit from the “battle bus.” (Burns & McDonnell / Contributed photo)

They worked under the guidance of gifted education teacher Jeff Morrison on their entry, “Nature’s Blueprint: A World of Animal Architects.”

“The exhibit would focus on the science and design of beastly builders; everything from the famed intricacies of termite mounds to the woody work of a beaver,” the students wrote.


“Visitors will be astounded at curling complexities of spider webs, and marvel at colorful coral polyps. Sustainability is integral to the way we live our lives, and by incorporating elements of biomimicry, architects and engineers have found the best way to save our Earth may be to take a few pages out of its book,” the pitch continues.

Free State students run through a tearaway banner to celebrate. (USD 497 / Contributed photo)
Free State High School students celebrate reaching the finals of the Battle of the Brains. (Burns & McDonnell / Contributed photo)

The winning group will be announced at a celebration and awards ceremony Jan. 23 at Union Station. See a full list of the top 20 schools at this link.

Below are both groups’ exhibit pitches. Each group also created a commercial for their pitch; view Hillcrest’s at this link, and Free State’s at this link.

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