Racist Hackers Target Only All-Female, All-Black Team in NASA Competition

Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell couldn’t believe it when they found out NASA had selected them as finalists in their prestigious high school competition. One of the girls called them “hidden figures in the making” in a text to friends. Justifiably so. The 17-year-old high school juniors are the only all-black female team to make it that far.

The D.C. students developed a method of purifying school drinking fountain water contaminated by lead. It’s a great idea. Unfortunately, a bunch of racist trolls couldn’t see past the competitors’ race to notice that.

The next phase of the competition included public voting, so the team promoted their project on social media. While they drew a lot of positive attention, including from activists and organizations like the Women’s March, they also came under fire from racist attacks.

Anonymous trolls on 4chan started a campaign against the girls, using racial slurs and telling people not to vote for them. They also recommended computer programs to hack the voting system.

NASA shut down public voting earlier than planned.

“Unfortunately, it was brought to NASA’s attention yesterday that some members of the public used social media, not to encourage students . . . but to attack a particular student team based on their race and encourage others to disrupt the contest and manipulate the vote, and the attempt to manipulate the vote occurred shortly after those posts,” the NASA statement read. “NASA continues to support outreach and education for all Americans, and encourages all of our children to reach for the stars.”

The girls are not letting these racist jerks get them down and instead have focused on the positive attention their project is getting and the potential impact that could have on their peers.

“In the STEM field, we are underrepresented,” Sharrieff said. “It’s important to be role models for a younger generation who want to be in the STEM field but don’t think they can.”

How their Water Filter Works

The competition asks students to find ways to use space technology in their everyday lives. The budding scientists decided to find a way to purify the drinking fountains at their school which couldn’t be used due to lead contamination.

The girls volunteer at the Inclusive Innovation Incubator, a diversity-focused technology lab. Their mentor there encouraged them to join the competition and supervised them at the lab on the weekends.

The girls created a filtration system based on NASA technology to create automatic pool purifiers. Using two jars, they place meters in each one to test the water’s purity. In one jar, they added pieces of copper to act as a contaminant.

They then use an electric fan which spins the water and a filtering floss to collect the contaminated particles. The clean water is then transferred to a second jar, where the second meter confirms that the water is clean.

They believe in their prototype so much they drank the filtered water themselves.

After hearing about the attacks, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced her administration would donate $4,000 to the teens to help them further develop their filtration system, saying that they deserve to know the community has their backs.

Those angry racist trolls are nothing, and these young women are our bright, shining future. “We’re just regular girls,” says Skinner. “And we want to be scientists.”

Related at Care2

Photo Credit: Mat Hampson


Marie W
Marie W4 months ago

Thank you for posting

Danuta W
Danuta W9 months ago

thank you for posting

Janis K
Janis K10 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Janet B
Janet B10 months ago


DAVID fleming
Past Member 10 months ago

Thank you for sharing

Leo C
Leo Custer10 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Joan E
Joan E10 months ago

Perhaps the racist hackers already drank water with lead in it. That could be what caused the mental impairment that made them racists in the first place.

Dot A
Dot A10 months ago

The ultimate truth will out. The victors will be those who have gone past the challenges and the hateful to fulfill a larger destiny. It is clear. As pure as absolute H2O. Congratulations to Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell for their beliefs in right!

Danuta Watola
Danuta W10 months ago

Thanks for your sharing

Tania N
Tania N10 months ago

Thanks for sharing