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Recent KS Maui graduates Bennett Takahama (left) and Kadence Merritt (right) don the medals they earned at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair.

Native plant project garners international science fair award for two KS Maui haumāna

May 28, 2024

Just days before Kadence Merritt and Bennett Takahama graduated from Kamehameha Schools Maui, the two budding scientists earned yet another honor for their invention aimed at helping to clean up toxic sites, including in Lahaina. 

The two haumāna earned a Third Award and a $1000 prize in the environmental engineering category at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles. Dubbed the Olympics of science fairs, 1,700 students from across the globe competed for prizes. There were some 80 entries in Merritt and Bennett’s category alone. 

The duo earned a spot in the international competition after winning the top prize in the Maui County Regional Science and Engineering Fair in February.  

With hopes it could be used in places like Lahaina, the two created an improved bio-filtration sock by inserting live pili grass. Also known as biosocks, these inexpensive, malleable sausage-looking contraptions are stuffed with organic materials that soak up and safely break pollutants from runoff before they reach storm drains that empty into the ocean.  

Grounded in ʻike kūpuna and with kōkua from several mentors, Merritt and Takahama made the conscious choice to utilize laʻau ‘ōiwi Hawaiʻi when creating their prototype. 

Up close view of the prototype biosock developed by KS Maui haumāna using pili grass. 

Through weeks of data collection and research, Merritt and Takahama were able to determine that their pili grass model soaked up more water than a traditional biosock. This suggests that in a real-world application their prototype would absorb more pollutants.  

The haumāna then spent countless hours building displays, compiling data and fine-tuning speeches. Those efforts paid dividends when they arrived at the hoʻokūkū in Los Angeles.  

David Takahama, a KS Maui science kumu, who also happens to be Bennett’s dad, was also on the huaka’i and says the two haumāna did excellent work, representing their kula and culture. 

“The competition really opened their eyes to what people are doing. It broadened their horizons as to what’s possible. It was also a great chance for them to share their culture and raise awareness about the situation in Lahaina.” 

Having just graduated, Merritt and Takahama plan to deepen their scientific knowledge at kula nui this fall. Bennett plans to attend Creighton University in Nebraska and Kadence is bound for Saint Martin’s University in Washington state.  
You can learn more about the pili grass project and its unique origin story here. 

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