ASM Honors High School Microbiologists at Intel Science Fair

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) is the largest and most prestigious science competition for high school students. This year’s fair was held in May in Reno, Nevada. Participating students were finalists from over 500 regional ISEF-affiliated science fairs held in over 40 countries and territories. More than 65,000 students competed in these regional fairs, but only 1,564 advanced to ISEF.

Since 2005, ASM has sponsored special prizes in microbiology and sent a team of judges to ISEF to present ten awards. This year the ASM judges, Nancy Freitag of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Tim Donohue of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Robert Gunsalus of UCLA, interviewed over 85 students. The students brought a variety of topics and methods to their projects, but all featured an inspiring caliber of performance. According to Donohue, “Some of the work had produced publication quality results using the most modern approaches. Students used their ingenuity to identify collaborators or approaches that would best allow them to answer the questions they identified.”

Back row: Stephanie Hoskins (fifth place), Ivan Lavander Candido Ferreira (fourth place), Brady Welu (first place), Shilpa Pramod Argade (fifth place), Lauren Jessup (fifth place).  
Front row: Stephanie Thompson (third place), Toby Douglas (second place), I-Ching Tseng (fifth place), Kelli Lynch (fifth place), Shubhangi Arora (fifth place), Nancy Freitag (Chair of the Judging Committee).

Brady Welu, the first place winner, identified a problem in his daily life and tried to find a solution. His project, entitled "The Effects of Clostridium difficile Toxins A and B on Porcine Shown Using Laboratory Testing,” used avian antibodies to help develop a product to make vaccines more effective in swine. Welu described how his project developed:
“I live on a hog and dairy farm in southwestern Minnesota. Last year, I made an avian antibody product specific to a problem that we had in our farrowing barn for which there was no vaccine available. This year, I tried to move my practicality to a more national-level since there have been reports of some farms with 30% death loss due to problems with Clostridium difficile. After creating a product with avian antibodies specific to the bacteria, I tested the product in a lab to show that my product was effective.”
Welu, a student at Marshall High School in Milroy, Minnesota, received a $2,000 cash prize.

Toby Douglas, of Oxford High School in Oxford, Mississippi, was awarded the second place prize of $1,250. Her project was called, “What is the Effect of pH and Temperature on Anaerobic Respiration in Yeast Cells?” The idea for Douglas’ project came from baking bread with her father. She decided to investigate ways to make yeast increase CO2 production to make the dough rise more quickly. Freitag, the chair of the judging committee, remarked, “To me, this is really taking science to heart and home.”

The third place winner was Stephanie Thompson of Mount Edgecumbe High School, Sitka, Alaska. She received $750 for her project, “A Molecular Phylogenetic Study of Archaea from a Muskeg in Southeast Alaska.” Ivan Lavander Candido Ferreira, a student at Collegio Guilherme Dumont Villares, Sao Paulo, Brazil, was awarded the $500 fourth place award. His project was entitled “Antibiotics from Eggs of the Spider Phoneutria nigriventer.” As a result of his success at the Intel Science Fair, Ferreira was invited to meet Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Six fifth place prizes of $250 were awarded as well.

Ferreira (right) with his mentor, Pedro Ismael da Silva Junior (left), and President Lula (center).

Gunsalus summarized the fair, “Regardless of the type of project, the students’ enthusiasm shines through brightly when they describe the question they addressed and how they went about solving it.”