Patent award is an inspiration

  • Thursday, December 4, 2014 4:53pm
  • Opinion

Congratulations to Alexandra West, who was recently awarded a U.S. patent for her design of a hyrdo-powered fish waste disposal system.

West’s design is exciting for a number of reasons, including the fact that she is a 2007 Skyview High School graduate, and we’re always thrilled to see a local go on to achieve big things.

We’re also excited that West’s design has the potential to mitigate an issue right here on the Kenai Peninsula. For a number of years, management agencies have been looking for ways to prevent the build-up of salmon carcasses along the Russian and upper Kenai Rivers, where anglers fish shoulder to shoulder when the sockeye are running. The piles of carcasses attract bears to the area, though, increasing the risk for human-bear interactions. A number of strategies have been implemented to reduce fish waste with varying success, from asking anglers to chop their carcasses into small pieces and throw them into the current, to carrying their fish out whole.

West’s system would be installed at filleting stations and use water power to grind up carcasses, reducing the attractant for bears while still returning the nutrients decaying salmon provide to the river ecosystem.

Beyond the accolades and benefits, West’s achievement should also be seen as a payoff on investment in education, especially in STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — and should serve as an example as to why investment in education should be continued.

As we mentioned, West is a Skyview alumna. Her fish waste disposal system design was part of an Honors Curriculum senior project at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, where she’s also finishing her master’s thesis. West is using her engineering training to look at fish habitat and hydrology issues around the state, according to PND Engineers Inc., where West is a staff engineer.

The Legislature spent a great deal of time on education questions during the 2014 session, and with tough budget decisions to be made, it is sure to be a hotly debated topic when lawmakers convene in Juneau next month. There is a crucial need for people who can think creatively to solve problems. A vibrant education system is vital to training those people, and lawmakers should keep that in mind as they make funding decisions.

So again, congratulations. We hope that West’s accomplishment will serve as an inspiration for other students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields — as well as for lawmakers facing challenges in funding STEM education.

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