Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell appear well on their way to productive careers in STEM. NASA named the team of young scientists from Benjamin Banneker High School—a magnet school in Washington D.C.—as finalists in its Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion & Research Challenge (OPSPRC) last month. Their project, a filter that removes lead and other impurities from school water fountains, propelled the all-Black, all-female team to reach the finals.
As The Washington Post reported on Wednesday (May 2), their success prompted the ire of users on 4chan, the anonymous internet forum known for discriminatory content. Several users organized a cybertroll campaign against the girls, using racist epithets in posts that advocated voting against their project on NASA’s public voting platform. The Post said that some posters suggested programs to hack the platform and boost a project from a group of teenage boys.
The attacks prompted NASA to shut down public voting earlier than expected. A statement on the contest website confirmed that “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.”
Regardless of who NASA picks to win the competition, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser believes in the students’ community-minded project. She announced yesterday (May 3) that her office will grant the team $4,000 for further development of the filtration system. A statement noted that the girls developed the project while volunteering at the Inclusive Innovation Incubator (In3), a diversity-focused tech hub housed at Howard University and supported by the mayor’s office.
“Mikayla, India and Bria are just the type of people and scientists our world needs more of and we are proud to support their dreams,” Bowser said in the statement.