Congratulations to NIRSEF Winners!

Author: Amy Stark

Congratulations to DNA Learning Center NIRSEF winners!

The DNA Learning Center was pleased to award prizes to 8 winners this past Saturday for outstanding science fair projects. DNA Learning Center judges were particularly looking for projects that related to genetics or inter-individual differences. 

Elementary winners were:
Zach Lane: "Which acne medication is most effective at Killing and Preventing Acne Causing Bacteria?"
Zach's presentation and description of his project was extremely impressive for a 5th grader. Not only did he did he effectively test bacteria growth for death and prevention, but he also reflected a sophisticated understanding of experiemental design (by testing if bacteria "death" was really death). Zach's interest in this project came from a family member's battle against acne. Despite finding one medication perform worst on both of this types of tests, he recognized that people still use it because it is prescribed by a doctor. When asked why it was still likely to prescribed, Zach impressively recognized that his test was against bacteria found on one's face and that the type of bacteria that cause acne on other parts of the body (or on other people) could potentially respond to the medication he found as least effective. Zach has an impressive future ahead in science!

Nolan Gerwels: "Does Exercise Improve Memory in Kids?"
Nolan investigated whether memory in 5th graders was better before or after gym class. He did two trials and tested two different classes ~50 5th graders. When analyzing his average results across the different classes, he did not see a positive effect of exercise, but upon reflection realized that another variable was in play: hunger. Gym class was mid-morning so the after gym class test was right before lunch suggesting that increasing levels of hunger could confound his results. This sophisticated interpretation was impressive as was his ability to describe future experiments that may control for this. Notably, upon questioning, Nolan also postulated that the effect of exercise (and hunger) may be different betweeen different kids. Best of luck in the future, Nolan!

Cymantha Jones: "Are you in your Right Mind?"
Cymantha is currently in the third grade, and at this early age, has an interest in the brain and neuroscience. Her project, investigating the “Right Brain v. Left Brain” conundrum through various tasks using the arms, hands, legs, and feet was inspired by an “ah-ha” moment of sorts while doing her homework on the computer. Cymantha said that she was working on the computer and reached for her glass of water with her left hand, which admittedly surprised her, since she is right-handed and such an event had never occurred before. Thus, her science fair project idea emerged:  seeing if people were in their “right” mind when they were doing various motor tasks by assessing if the right or left side was used during said task. Her results showed the right side pre-dominated for all body parts tested, except the feet. In the future, Cymantha hopes to come up with a new series of tasks in a reciprocal transplant style experiment, making adults do kid tasks, kids to adult tasks, and having two age-appropriate controls to see if age affects if you are in your “right mind.” Cymantha aspires one day to attend the University of Notre Dame.

Junior winners were:
Karen Hunckler, runner-up "Clots Never 'Go With the Flow'"
Karen's family has a history of blood clots and her own aspiration to be a doctor led her to a science fair project to test how increasing concentrations of an anti-coagulent affect the formation of blood clots. Karen used a model-system of sodium alginate and calcium chloride to create clots and citric acid as the anti-coagulent. Her experiements supported her hypothesis, increasing doses of citric acid (anti-coagulent) created smaller clots. Karen was very knowledgeable and her passion for medicine was apparent as she described the importance of her experiments and findings. Karen is on her way to a medically relevent science future!

Colby Szymczak, scholarship to DNA Center's summer camp for "Where the wild germs grow"
A self-proclaimed germ enthusiast, Colby sought to investigate the level of germ growth in him home on ever day objects including a kitchen sponge, toilet seat, telephone, remote control, and door knob. Colby took the initiative to prepare his own agar for his petri dishes and made three streaks from each test object on a plate, keeping track of colony growth on graph paper. Originally, Colby hypothesized that the toilet seat would have the greatest concentration of colonies, but he found that his results contradicted his initial prediction. The toilet seat was found to have the second least amount of colony growth, whereas the kitchen sponge had the highest bacterial density, with Colby suggesting to be weary of moist, porous places in the home, for such is a breeding place for bacteria. Colby also recognized that while his project focused on assessing bacteria growth, there were visual differences between the typs of bacteria that grew suggesting that he was growing different types of bacteria with different potential properties and pathogenicity. Genetic sequencing would be one way to identify those bacteria, Colby!

Lauren Bryant, scholarship to DNA Center's summer camp for "pH pHenomenon"
Lauren is in the seventh grade and designed a science fair project to test the effects of chewing gum on saliva pH. Lauren, an avid gum-chewer had heard that chewing sugar-free gum after a meal neutralizes the saliva and wanted to investigate how sugar-free and regular chewing gum affecting saliva pH after subjects fasted for one hour after eating. Lauren found that sugar-free gum consistently increased the pH as a means of neutralizing the acid from a meal, but the results for the regular gum were quite variable. Lauren concluded that sugar-free gum is the way to go, neutralizing the saliva, and in the future, would like to learn more about the effects of age, gender, and time between eating and gum chewing on salivary pH. Lauren also recognized a number of variables that may cause the differences she observed between different subject's neutralization including saliva production and other genetic differences. Very impressive, Lauren!

Senior winners were:
James Twaddle, runner-up "Bio-diesel from Algae"
James designed his project to deal with the fossil fuel crisis. Interested in alternative fuels, James sought to investigate three species of algae as potential bio-fuel sources. James found that only a small amount of fuel was recovered from each species of algae and the algae had poor cold-flow properties, which would lead to the fuel getting thick and slushy in the Indiana winters. However, he did find that Haematococcus had excellent power potential. Corn oil, meant as a control, had better cold flow than any of the algae, so James suggested creating an alternative fuel with corn oil for its cold flow properties and the Haematococcus for its power, to be used in the summer and fall months as an alternative for fossil fuels. In the future, James suggested the potential for genetically engineered algae to resist cold temperatures and still provide adequate power. Very interesting, James!

Alyssa Grzesiowski, scholarship to DNA Center's summer camp, "Does Scent Affect Memory?"
Alyssa, the winner from the senior division, did her project on scent and memory, creating her own memory tests using a series of words, line-drawings, patterns, and lego arrangements adapted from Alzheimer’s Disease cognitive tests. The scents Alyssa chose to use were lavender oil (for its soothing properties) and rosemary oil (a stimulant). Alyssa exposed test-takers to either rosemary, lavender, or no scent while administering a series of memory-based cognitive tests. She found that the rosemary test group had the highest recall, but when she waited three minutes before administration of the test, the control group had the best recall. Alyssa has a special interest in neuroscience and acknowledged that inter-individual differences in cognition, along with scent therapy, have an effect on memory. Great job, Alyssa!

Overall the DNA Learning Center was extremely excited with the high quality of scientific research being performed!