During the summer of 2015, I was a rising junior at Conestoga High School in Berwyn, PA. Since I’ve long been interested in pursuing a science career, I was grateful for the opportunity to gain valuable research experience in Dr. Field’s lab with the TREES program. I highly recommend that any high school student interested in research or environmental science apply. Outside the lab, I enjoy reading, drawing and catching up on lost sleep over the weekends. At Conestoga, I participate in track and field, write for the school newspaper, compete in Science Olympiad, volunteer for Key Club and study environmental topics for Envirothon. In the United States, eutrophication first became a major environmental concern in the 1960s, after years of widespread chemical fertilizer use. Eutrophication, caused by both manmade and natural factors, is characterized by increased nutrient content in bodies of water which causes proliferation of plants and algae. Excessive plant and algal growth triggers imbalances in ecosystems, mass die-offs of aquatic life and reduces drinking water quality. Runoff from fields and lawns treated with chemical fertilizers containing nitrates and phosphates are a primary contributor to the eutrophication problem. In remote rural areas outside the United States, methaemoglobinaemia, or blue baby syndrome, remains a health issue. The name “blue baby syndrome” refers to the blue tint of an affected child’s skin that results from drinking water contaminated with high levels of nitrates. For my research project, I hoped to experiment with an affordable, efficient method of filtering nitrates out of water. I hypothesized that concrete was a promising solution to my question. Scientific research I read suggested that nitrates could possibly become bound within the concrete matrix. However, no studies so far have investigated the possibility exploiting this property for water filtration. I tested the effect of different pH buffers, multiple filtrations and particle size on nitrate removal using concrete. Ideally, any filtration method would remove as much nitrates as possible from water for the benefit of both human and environmental health. Since I was unable to reduce the nitrate levels of my experimental solutions below 10 ppm, I hope to continue my research after the TREES program ends. Common methods for water treatment such as activated charcoal filters, sand filters and boiling water are useless for nitrate removal. Most existing methods for nitrate filtration are resource and cost intensive. While this poses little problems for communities with a common water system, individuals with private wells contaminated with nitrates often cannot afford to implement an expensive home filtration system. In the United States, storm drains mostly pipe runoff directly to local bodies of water. During periods of heavy rainfall, nutrients from fertilizer easily enter waterways. Installing beds of concrete in drainage pipes may alleviate the problem without a significant systemic overhaul. Through this research experience, I learned to not be afraid to try new solutions to already solved problems – no matter how far out they might seem! To the contrary of many animal lovers, I must agree with the adage that there is really more than one way to skin a cat. I also gained practical lab skills such as pipetting small amounts of liquid, using a colorimetric assay and operating a spectrophotometer.
After living in a big city such as Philadelphia for most of my life, I realized that cigarette butts are a nuisance to the environment not only visual but also biologically. It eventually dawned upon me that it is possible that the tobacco remaining in the cigarettes could pose negative effects even after the cigarette is put out. Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the United States and is therefore bound to wind up in water ways. With this in mind, I decided to test if tobacco is evident to be carcinogenic in water. If I am able to find that tobacco has the ability to cause water ways to become carcinogenic, then I can provide another reason why people should not litter these small packages of toxins. For example, cigarettes have been proven to produce nitrosamines. Evidence has been shown that nitrosamine exposure to aquatic life has the ability to cause acute toxicity in aquatic life. If my research turns out positive for carcinogens, this will prove that cigarettes are even more harmful to aquatic life as it proves to produce both nitrosamines and carcinogens in water. After being given the privilege to work in a lab for 10 weeks, I gained many essential lab skills thanks to my mentors along the way. All of the skills I learned will give me the ability to apply them to future research projects.
I am a rising sophomore at Germantown Friends School. I have always loved science and medicine. Ever since I was little, I’ve always told people that when I grow up, I want to cure diseases. My grandfather died from Alzheimer’s, and after watching him lose his memory to the point where he couldn’t even remember his son, I’ve always been especially interested in Alzheimer’s disease. After completing high school, I hope to major in either biology or environmental science and then hopefully continue on to get my M.D. or Ph.D. For my project, I chose to study bacon under different conditions to see if it would be carcinogenic at any point. I tested both cured and uncured bacon, and I tested them at different times and temperatures. I also tested the two types bacon cooked with a microwave and baked in a microwave oven. I wanted to see if any of these factors would be make bacon carcinogenic. If I am able to definitively prove that bacon isn’t carcinogenic when cooked in a microwave and that in a microwave oven, it becomes increasingly carcinogenic the longer you bake it after the recommended cooking time, this will allow people to be much more conscious bacon cookers and consumers. I am also trying to prove that both cured and uncured bacon are carcinogenic under the same conditions, so it doesn’t make a difference if you buy your bacon from Wawa for $5.00 or Whole Foods for $10.00. There have always been some bad vibes associated with eating too much bacon, but nobody has ever specified why it’s actually bad. I hope that by conducting this research, people will have their facts straight about bacon and know not to overbake it in an oven. Before TREES, I had never worked in any type of formal lab setting and I had never even come up with my own research project. Through TREES, I have really understood how science can resolve many global issues, but also that science isn’t easy. Results don’t just come. You have to work hard and troubleshoot and continuously change your assay. I remember when I first had my bacon project idea, I thought it would be so easy and I would get results immediately. However, what I failed to understand, is that failure is not only unavoidable in science, but it is a key instructor to force you to ask more questions about why your assay isn’t working and what you could have done differently. I have specifically learned how to use sterile technique and the importance of it, how to properly measure things and pipet, how different chemicals react to each other and how to use different types of assays to obtain different types of results.