Students from Edlin School in Reston, Virginia, present their city for the Future City entry at the regional competition. The team will compete in the national finals this weekend in Washington, D.C. (Paula Hyslop)

Building a city of the future may sound pretty cool until the process eats up months of free time. But a group of local kids has been willing to do whatever it takes for their entry in the Future City Competition. That’s because of the first-place prize: a trip to the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

Nine kids from the Edlin School in Reston, Virginia, created a concept for an innovative city that won the Mid-Atlantic regional level of this year’s competition. They advanced to the national finals, which begin Saturday in Washington, where they’ll compete against 36 other regional winners.

Rayyan Khan, 14, is the Edlin team’s only girl and its leader. The team also includes her brother Mikail, Nevan Ahmed, Mikail Allen, Zeid Bagabas, Cullen Capuano, Tarun Donipati, Logan Hyslop and Shaan Vardan. Her parents, Shaila and Shahin Kahn, also work with the group.

Middle school students in the Future City Competition work in teams with professional engineering mentors to create a city model that solves a problem specified in the contest guidelines. This year’s theme is feeding future cities, and teams had to select one vegetable and one protein and come up with a way to grow enough of each in their city to feed its residents.

Teams have to submit an essay outlining their idea, a virtual model made on the SimCity computer program and a tabletop model to show the city’s scale. Teams get only eight minutes to explain it.

This team of middle-schoolers from Edlin School designed a city that would use stem cells to grow food. (Paula Hyslop)

The Edlin students’ idea was to grow food for their city, which is called Fortuna, in a lab using stem cells from chickens and kale. (Stem cells are cells that don’t have a specific function and can develop into many kinds of cells.)

Team mentor Shahin Khan, a computer engineer, said that while most teams created solutions that used farmland efficiently, the Edlin team’s revolutionary solution eliminates the need for farmland.

“We were nervous that they wouldn’t like it because it’s not normal, it’s not how people think of food today,” Rayyan said of how the judges would react to their idea. “You don’t think of growing it in a lab; you think of growing it on trees and stuff.”

“We knew that they would either take it really well or they would hate it, so we took the risk,” Mikail added.

Shahin Khan said that although the idea was risky, the team was confident and knowledgeable.

The team has spent countless hours researching and practicing their presentation, the most important part of the project, to prepare for any questions the judges might ask.

“We tried to anticipate as much as we could,” Shaan said.

Edlin teacher Shaila Khan said the school has entered teams in the Future City for the past four years, but this is the first year one has placed. “Their teamwork and hard work won this,” she said.

The regional win got the students individual medals, a plaque and a $200 grant for their school.

“It was really exciting because we put so much time and effort into it, and it actually paid off,” Rayyan said.

Travel to the future

What: Future City National Finals and special awards ceremony.

Where: Capital Hilton, 1001 16th Street NW.

When: Public viewing Sunday from 6 to 7 p.m.; Final judging and awards Tuesday, February 17, 9 a.m.
to noon.

For more information: A parent can go to www.futurecity.org.

Sarah Polus