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Student Scientists Look to the Future at Science Fair

By Gerri Adams-Simmons

Photos by Ernie Branson

Alice Deal Jr. High School invited its NIH partners to participate as judges in the school's science fair; the event let us know that, indeed, our future is in good hands. NIH judges for the 316 exhibits were Drs. William Harlan, NIH associate director for disease prevention; Joannie Shen, NIAAA; John Stewart, NCI; along with Judit Camacho, NCI and six NIH Academy post-baccalaureate students.

Joseph Brown (l) explains his project to Dr. John Stewart IV of NCI.

As Harlan completed his round of exhibits, he concluded, "Several things impressed me about the science fair: the projects were generally well-planned and included a testable hypothesis; appropriate data were collected; and the students used the data to arrive at a conclusion. It is gratifying to see the interest and excitement in science nourished by actual experience."

Fair participants included (above, from l) Mulenesh Gerima, Salisha Hill and the NIH Academy's Nicole Brown of NINDS; below are student Valentina Assenova and the academy's Macarthur Baker of NHGRI.

Shen commented, "It was an exciting and enjoyable experience being a judge at the science fair. I was impressed by the diversity of students' interests, from the efficacy of herbal remedies to the hyperactive effect of coffee-drinking in mice. This experience reminded me that good science is defined by its rigorous methods and not by the complexity of the subject matter. In essence, the efforts expressed by the students were similar to what we strive for at our laboratories."

Harrison McKnight (r) points out data to judge Dr. Joannie Shen of NIAAA.

Lydia Miller (r) explains her work to the academy's Vanessa Shaw of NCI.

Topics included: the effect of common acidic substances on E. coli bacteria; Does Gregor Mendel's theory of dominant trait inheritance still apply to modern day families with four or more children? Does the sense of smell in humans improve the ability to recall previously learned information, and is there a difference between males and females in this regard? Are males or females more likely to give in to peer pressure? Are awareness and performance negatively affected in drivers who use cell phones? What is the effect of second-hand smoke on plants? Do jalapeno, garlic and lemon work as natural pesticides on tobacco hornworms? How does the aging process affect eye and hand coordination? Does music affect the growth of plants?

Quetzalsol Lopez-Chacon of NINDS views an environmental science poster by Claire Jenkins.

Juan Morin of NIAMS and Tiffany Schoolfield go over her work on mold.

NIH acting deputy director Dr. Yvonne Maddox promoted awareness of health disparities by providing the students with "click pens" that listed the web site and the six ethnic groups that are the focus of the health disparities working group: African Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, Hispanics and Latinos, Native Americans, and Native Alaskans. Several teachers said classroom discussions would be held the next morning on health disparities. After admiring the pens, students were curious about the topic. Upon receiving his pen, Silvio Ruprah, an 8th grader, exclaimed, "I'm Asian, Hispanic and Italian," and then gave a response repeatedly heard from the students, "These pens are cool!"

Tarice Barnes of NIDDK (l) judges poster by Deal student Andrea Gray.

Harriet Dixon, a physical science teacher, said, "We are appreciative of NIH's participation. The NIH exhibit added a special professional touch to the fair. It brought a highlight to the focus on the life sciences of our exhibit which connected with the NIH exhibit theme 'A Lifetime of Opportunity... Dedicated to a Healthy Nation.'"

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