ASM Honors High School Microbiologists at 2011 Intel Science Fair

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the world’s largest high school science competition, was held May 8-13 in Los Angeles, California. Organized by the Society for Science and the Public, this fair brings together over 1,500 students from all over the world. Participants were finalists from 443 regional ISEF-affiliated science fairs held in over 65 countries and territories. More than 65,000 students get the opportunity to compete in these regional fairs each year. This is ASM’s seventh year sponsoring special prizes in microbiology at ISEF. ASM’s team of judges is Robert Gunsalus (University of California, Los Angeles), Miriam Barlow (University of California, Merced), Daniel Buckley (Cornell University), and Eric Eisenstadt (Independent Consultant).

Alexandra Wheatley (Northwest Career and Technical Academy, Las Vegas, NV) was awarded first place by ASM for her project, “Microbial Explorations of a New Window into the Death Valley Deep Hydrological Flow System.” She was inspired by a trip to Lehman Caves in northern Nevada after her freshman year in high school, where she was intrigued by the organisms that were able to live despite the extremes of a cave environment. For her project, Wheatley compared Nevares Spring deep well with other deep subsurface habitats to study microbial diversity, potential for novel life, and possible inter-basin flow in the Great Basin region. “Bacterial cell samples were collected using filtration and nucleic acids extracted,” she explained. “The 16S rRNA gene was amplified through polymerase chain reaction and cloned for DNA sequencing. Phylogenetic analysis of sequenced DNA showed that Nevares’ deep borehole houses an uncultured bacterium closely related (approximately 98% of 16rRNA gene) to other deep subsurface environments in geographically distant locations.” Barlow was impressed by this work: “Wheatley understood the statistical aspects of the phylogenetics programs she had used—in this respect, her knowledge exceeded that of many graduate students.” Her findings imply a possible ancestral linkage of bacteria in the deep subsurface. Wheatley received a $2,000 cash prize and a student membership to ASM.

This year’s second place laureate was Peter Yin (Ames High School, IA) for his project, “Functional Characterization of Green Tea-responsive Proteins in Escherichia coli.” Andrew Abboud (Tippecanoe High School, Tipp City, OH) received third place for his project, entitled “The Protective Effects of the Violacein Pigment against UV-C Irradiation in Chromobacterium violaceum.” Fourth place went to Francisco Orozco (Tucson Magnet High School, AZ) for “Plant Symbiotic Microfungi as Novel Forms of Cellulase and Ligninase Enzymes for Biofuel Production, a Two-Year Study.” Six fifth place prizes were also awarded:

  • “Weaving Health: The Weaving of Antimicrobial Substances from the Ootheca of the Banana Spider II,” by Leonardo de Oliveira Bodo (Dante Alighieri, Sao Paulo, Brazil)
  • “FIGHTING BAC!!, Phase IV: The Isolation of Anti-proliferative Phytochemicals from Cranberries to Eradicate Escherichia coli,” by Jordan Mark Grainger (Rio Rancho High School, NM)
  • “Evaluating the Role of the HOG1 and ESCRT Pathways in Host/Cell Interaction and Stress Response of Candida albicans,” by David Kenneth Tang-Quan (Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, Rolling Hills Estates, CA)
  • “Interrupting Bacterial Conversation with Black Olive (Bucida buceras) Extracts, by Rohan Batra (American Heritage School, Plantation, FL)
  • “An Eco-friendly Antifungal Agent: Leaf extract of Girardinia diversifolia,” by Diksha Gupta (Maharaja Agarsain Public School, Delhi, India)
  • “Assessment of Various Organic Electron Donors for Electrical Production by Geobacter grbiciae in a Novel H-Type Microbial Fuel Cell” by Jyotishka Biswas (Hume-Fogg Academic High School, Nashville, TN) and Jiahe Gu (The School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt, Nashville, TN)


Back Row: Leonardo Bodo (5th place), Rohan Batra (5th place), Jordan Grainger (5th place), Peter Yin (2nd place),
Andrew Abboud (3rd place), David Tang-Quan (5th place)

Front Row: Robert Gunsalus (Chair of the Judging Committee), Diksha Gupta (5th place), Alexandra Wheatley (1st place),
Francsico Orozco (4th place), Jiahe Gu (5th place), Jyotishka Biswas (5th place)


“All of the projects were well done,” said Barlow. “Some students had great resources and some used kitchen supplies, but all of them were excited and smart, and thought hard about their projects. They have a fresh perspective on science, good controls and a lot of creativity.” All of the ASM winners received cash prizes and student memberships to ASM.

The Intel Science Fair is a wonderful opportunity for high school students to explore their knowledge and cultivate their enthusiasm for the sciences. “Participating in Intel ISEF has been one of my most honorable accomplishments,” Wheatley explained. “It has given me and other young adults the opportunity to meet with professionals and peers who share my area of interest. It also allowed me to see how important science and engineering is to the world. As finalists we are constantly reminded we are the future; we are encouraged to be the ones who will make the world a better place and solve the problems of today.”