SALEM, OR (KPTV) - Three high school students in Salem are attracting national attention for a science project that seeks to help the city monitor its drinking water.

Julie Chen, Ned Hardland, and Mason Obery are interested specifically in the blue-green algae blooms that crippled Salem's drinking water in the spring and summer of 2018.

Chen and her classmates wanted to find a way to detect potentially dangerous algal blooms before they became a widespread problem, and settled on using a drone to capture video and images of Detroit Lake, the source of the city's drinking water, and use a computer algorithm to identify whether anything in those images looks like algae.

"It kind of breaks apart each image pixel by pixel and takes it all and strings it into a long line and analyzes those," Harland said.

The students' proposal won the Samsung "Solve for Tomorrow" Contest for the State of Oregon.

The team won $20,000 worth of technology and will now compete to be among the 10 finalists to present their projects in Washington, D.C.

The students have tested their program, and found the early results promising, with the algorithm successfully identifying simulated algae blooms in small plastic pools.

The students said they've been having conversations with the City of Salem about how their idea might be put to use in the future.

The students will be submitting their video to Samsung in mid-February, and should hear back about a possible trip to Washington in mid-March.

Copyright 2019 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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