DC Students Make Finals for NASA Contest Then Face Racial Attacks Online

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The three girls, who are all on the high school's cheerleading team, said they plan pursue careers rooted in science.

NASA chose to stop public voting on a competition for students when 4chan users targeted a team of African-American girls. As it turns out, 4chan hackers had launched a massive cyber attack to stop a trio of African-American teenage girls from winning the OPSPARC competition.

The space agency said in a statement, "Some members of the public used social media, not to encourage students and support STEM, but to attack a particular student team based on their race and encouraged others to disrupt the contest and manipulate the vote".

The girls, Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell, tried to celebrate their achievements by texting, "Hidden figures in the making". It involved creating a sensor to detect impurities such as copper, chlorine, and bromine, and then using a filtration bottle to purify the water supply in a continuous cycle.

The system that the girls created is based on the 1994 technology that NASA created to develop automatic pool filters.

Advancing to the final round of competition with the Banneker High School trio are teams from Texas, Nevada, and California, as well as one after-school program, responsible for creations like a self-cleaning phone protector; a process for cleaning microalgae and using it for fuel; a more effective cooler for transporting anything, from drinks and condiments, to human organs for transplant; a new method of aeroponic gardening; a film-spray capable of blocking UV rays; and a durable, lightweight, phone-skin case.

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However, some users on 4chan attacked them exclusively based on their race evidently so as to ruin their chances of winning the competition.

The U.S. space agency mentioned that competition organizers have accurate records of the voting results prior to the hacker attack and that the final decision will be made by a panel of NASA judges.

The anonymous posters used racial slurs, argued that the students' project didn't deserve to be in the finals and said the black community was voting for the teens only due to their race.

Some 4chan users said it was "unfair" social media users with large audiences were encouraging their followers to vote for the all black female team, which put the team decisively ahead of the other teams.

As a result, NASA suspended the public voting on April 29 and announced that the top three Public Choice teams in each category of the OPSPARC Challenge will be notified on the competition's website. On Monday NASA issued a statement decrying the hacking attempt and offering encouragement to young scientists: "NASA continues to support outreach and education for all Americans, and encourages all of our children to reach for the stars".

The winners of the competition will be announced sometime in the next few weeks, a NASA Goddard spokesperson told Newsweek.