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Classroom Voices

Student voice: Five young scientists who are innovating ways to help their communities

April 18, 2022

 

Finalists in the Regeneron Science Talent Search on the U.S. Capitol steps, Washington D.C. Photos courtesy of Society for Science

Young people including high school students have the creativity, knowledge and ability to meet the needs of their own communities — and the world — through research and invention.

Some of the high school students who made it to the finals of the Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS), a program of the Society for Science, have offered to share ways their inventions and scientific research can help address needs in their own backyards and make their communities better places to live.

For more on the Regeneron Science Talent Search and to read about recent winners and their projects, click here.

Elijah Burks

Caddo Parish Magnet High School, Louisiana

Elijah Burks

How can your research lead to solving challenges or addressing needs in your own community?

My research sheds light on the problem of freshwater acidification. Freshwater makes up approximately 3% of the water on Earth, with the rest being salt water. Though the majority of the Earth is made up of salt water, this does not mean that fresh water should be overlooked when it comes to freshwater acidification, as more than 100,000 organisms live in freshwater.

Carbon dioxide (CO₂) in the atmosphere is rising due to the increased use of fossil fuels stemming from the industrial revolution 200 years ago. A multitude of research has been done on how increasing CO₂ affects saltwater organisms, but not on freshwater.

This research showed that increasing CO₂ negatively affected freshwater clams. This increase in CO₂ is inhibiting the growth of freshwater clams that rely on calcium carbonate (CaCO3) to build their shells. Using a custom-made apparatus, I varied pH levels from alkaline to acidic in tanks of clams. I found that the more acidic the water, the greater destruction of CaCO3, corresponding to a reduction in the body mass of the clams and an increase in respiration.

I hope my project will inspire scientists to conduct more research on freshwater organisms and see how climate change will impact them. One day, all of the freshwater clams could be gone due to a lack of knowledge and research.

I hope my project will inspire scientists to conduct more research on freshwater organisms and see how climate change will impact them.

Being from Louisiana, the $2.4 billion seafood industry is vital to our economy. Suppose there is a decrease in the clam population. In that case, it can significantly affect Louisiana’s seafood industry and farmers who rely on freshwater clams and fish to feed their families and make money for themselves, which accounts for over 100 million people.

Fun fact: I am a six-time Taekwondo champion and enjoy birdwatching.

Ethan Chiu

Syosset High School, New York

Ethan Chiu

How can your research lead to solving challenges or addressing needs in your own community?

Dark humor is like healthcare. Not everybody gets it.

When I volunteered at Nassau University Medical Center, a community hospital in East Meadow, New York, one day, I witnessed a woman crying because she couldn’t afford medications for her son. This reminded me of a challenging time when similarly, my grandmother couldn’t access hepatic cancer treatment when she most needed it due to the associated costs. Every year, Americans spend an average of $5.6 billion out of pocket on cancer treatments. In fact, 40% of Americans face surprise medical bills, which currently cause two-thirds of personal bankruptcies and act as a substantial financial burden for many. Even worse, some hospitals, like Memorial Sloan-Kettering, refuse to provide new drugs to patients due to the astronomical drug costs.

While researching potential drug treatment locations for uveal melanoma (UM), an extremely deadly eye cancer that kills 80% of its victims within six months, I stumbled across a journal article suggesting that Doxycycline, a prescription antibiotic, could be repurposed to inhibit breast cancer metastasis. After learning about this research, I sought to evaluate Doxycycline’s effects on UM. By running experiments, integrating bioinformatics and this new stem cell research, I found that many of Doxycycline’s effects on UM cells, such as mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation and angiogenesis inhibition along with tumor suppressor gene promotion, were therapeutic. Thus, I realized that many of the proliferation-inhibiting properties that Doxycycline had exhibited in breast cancer were also applicable to UM, making this therapy both effective and affordable.

Research is often characterized as the quest for novel discoveries; however, manipulating existing tools developed by generations of scientists is an equally vital aspect of innovation. Moreover, testing proven therapies in novel ways can help keep development, production, and distribution costs low—expanding access to life-saving medical treatments for millions. Ultimately—along with implementing healthcare policy reform to help all Americans to access basic medical care—studying and repurposing existing drugs such as Doxycycline to treat deadly cancers is a critical component in the race to end the dark comedy of America’s healthcare system.

Fun fact: I love to explore diverse types of cultural foods! Exploring various restaurants near my laboratory is a super fun way to explore NYC!

Brooke Dunefsky

Irvington High School, New York

Brooke Dunefsky

How can your research lead to solving challenges or addressing needs in your own community?

Strokes do not discriminate, affecting millions of people each year. Unfortunately, as a result, many people will be impacted by a stroke either personally or through a friend or family member. Working directly with stroke victims and understanding the extent of their struggles motivated me to do something to help with their recovery process. I am grateful for the opportunity that science and technology have provided me with, to make a tangible impact on individuals’ lives, and most of all I am grateful for every stroke victim who has shared their experiences with me. I hope to have made, and to continue to make an impact on this incredibly resilient community.

I am grateful for the opportunity that science and technology have provided me with, to make a tangible impact on individuals’ lives, and most of all I am grateful for every stroke victim who has shared their experiences with me.

Editor’s note: Brooke created a biomedical device that helps speed up the recovery process for stroke victims by allowing patients to practice pronation and supination movements. The device is adaptable in that it uses eddy currents to produce varying levels of resistance, and its affordability makes the rehabilitation process more accessible. Brooke created and hosts a podcast called Charity Talks to help people learn about great local, national and international nonprofits through interviews with their leaders. Charity Talks also highlights inspirational people making a huge impact in the world. Currently, it has listeners in 122 countries and all 50 U.S. states.

Atreyus Bhavsar

The Blake School — Northrop Campus, Minnesota

Atreyus Bhavsar

How can your research lead to solving challenges or addressing needs in your own community?

I was fortunate enough to build my very own respiratory droplet spread lab in our basement at home at the beginning of the COVID pandemic and was able to demonstrate that social distancing alone at six feet or wearing a mask improperly below the nose resulted in significant droplet spread during a simulated cough or sneeze. I was also able to build barriers which prevented respiratory droplet spread while eating in a cafeteria. These findings were able to immediately help address the spread of COVID during the early days of the pandemic in my own community. My barrier designs were implemented in a large medical practice in the Twin Cities and allowed individuals to eat next to one another without masks in a safe environment. My research can continue to help reduce the spread of COVID even now and can particularly help those communities hit hardest, including those who are marginalized, have fewer resources or live in less than ideal conditions. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to one of the greatest challenges of our time, the COVID pandemic. It has been a more than humbling experience for me to be part of such a hard-working, sincere, intelligent and diverse group of young STS student scientists who have already taken the first step toward improving our world with their creative yet powerful research.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to one of the greatest challenges of our time, the COVID pandemic.

Fun fact: They call me the duck whisperer: I have had the privilege of raising multiple generations of ducks and geese which has inspired my volunteer work at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota, where I helped rescue young waterfowl from perilous and dire circumstances to give them a fighting chance for survival back in the wild.

Hailee Youn

Roslyn High School, New York

Hailee Youn

How can your research lead to solving challenges or addressing needs in your own community?

Considering that low voter turnout rates have been a prevalent issue in the U.S. for decades, it is paramount that we start to understand the psychology behind why citizens choose whether or not to vote. I hope that my research can contribute to solving this societal problem and that we may start seeing more civic participation in my own community, as well as within the country at large.

In my study, I explored two variables that may increase citizens’ likelihood to vote in elections: descriptive norms and holding a minority/majority political viewpoint. I found that positive descriptive norms — which indicate that a lot of people will be voting in the election — lead people to have intent and feel responsible to vote. I also found that when a citizen holds a minority political viewpoint — meaning that the political party they are affiliated with is not registered in large numbers — they feel a sense of responsibility to vote.

Fun fact: I enjoy boxing and golfing in my free time.


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