By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, mgreen@afro.com

India Skinner, Mikayla Sharrieff and Bria Snell are 11th graders and members of the cheerleading squad at Banneker High School in Washington, D.C., who are spreading their “Black Girl Magic” in the world of STEM, the famous acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.   How?  The young ladies created a method for purifying lead-contaminated water in school water fountains.  They began this project after discovering the need for a purifier at Banneker where there are certain drinking receptacles students are unable to use because of potential issues lead contamination.

According to The Washington Post, the girls spent time at the Inclusive Innovation Incubator, a technology lab geared toward diversity and entrepreneurship near Howard University, where they volunteer.  Their mentor at the incubator persuaded the young women to compete in the NASA competition and supported and supervised them on weekends as they built the prototype for the water purifier.

From left, Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell’s submission for a NASA competition was overrun by hackers. (Courtesy photo)

Their completed filtration system ended up being based off of NASA’s automatic pool purifiers.

The process started with two jars of water, and a meter testing its purity. Then, one jar is filled with copper in the water acting as the contaminant.  Next an electric fan spins the water while a type of fiber called filtering floss collects the impure particles.  When it is clean, the water is then transferred via straw to the second jar and tested with the meters to check for purity.  The girls say the experiment worked so well they felt comfortable drinking the water.

“Ours actually shows you that the water you are drinking is clean,” Snell told The Washington Post.

After learning they were finalists, the next step of the competition included public voting and so the three teens turned to social media in order to market their project, an effort that was very successful garnering thousands of retweets on Twitter and support from Black leaders including a representative from the Women’s March, who said African Americans were underrepresented in STEM.

Yet Internet trolls had the opposite outlook on the three women.  Anonymous users from 4chan posted racists and homophobic comments about the girls and their race. They even recommended computer programs to hack the voting system and give another team of teen boys a leg-up on the competition.

Because of the hackers NASA ended the online voting on May 1.

“Unfortunately, it was brought to NASA’s attention yesterday that some members of the public used social media, not to encourage students… but to attack a particular student team based on their race and encourage others to disrupt the contest and manipulate the vote, and the attempt to manipulate the vote occurred shortly after those posts,” a NASA statement said.

Despite the hater hackers, the teens made the top eight finalists in the competition which results in being invited to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland for two days of workshops, with the winners receiving a $4,000 to cover all the expenses.

Mayor Muriel Bowser congratulated the young women for making it this far, despite the haters.

“Despite the odds that attempted to come against them, the young ladies of @Banneker_HS are STILL making history as the only all-, female team in the @NASAGoddard Challenge.  #DCProud of you and will continue to support you as you shatter the glass ceilings of the #STEM field.”