ASM Honors High School Microbiologists at 2010 Intel Science Fair

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), often called the junior Nobel Prize, was held this May in San Jose, California.  This is the most prestigious science competition for high school students, with over 1,600 participants from all over the world.  Participating students were finalists from more than 500 regional ISEF-affiliated science fairs held in over 40 countries and territories.  More than 65,000 students compete in these regional fairs each year.

This is the sixth year that ASM has sponsored special prizes in microbiology at ISEF.  Robert Gunsalus, University of California, Los Angeles, chaired ASM’s team of judges.  Tim Donohue, University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Miriam Barlow, University of California, Merced, joined him to speak with and judge the 89 students in the microbiology category.  All were impressed by the sheer talent exhibited in the projects.  Says Gunsalus: “projects display cutting edge research and demonstrate that science fair projects can be equivalent to experiments being performed by graduate students at leading universities.”

Madeline Sides, a senior from Davis, California, was awarded first place for her project, entitled “A Multipronged Investigation of the Amphibian Pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis.”  Sides became interested in microbiology in 2008, when she studied the effects of ocean acidification on marine phytoplankton.  She enjoys science because:

        it is the ultimate intellectual challenge for the reason that one has to be capable of visualizing a hypothesis or project idea conceptually, and putting the time  and effort into making the idea into a real project.  The challenges that research presents makes the finished product (and the opportunity to go to such events as Intel ISEF) all the more valuable.

Sides joined a summer research program last summer at Texas Tech University, where she became interested in Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis.  She described her project as:

        a three-part investigation of the pathogenic fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. This fungus causes the infectious disease chytridiomycosis and is attributed to large scale population declines of amphibians worldwide. One part of the investigation focused on identifying a natural antifungal to treat the disease, a second part looked at the fungus' response to heat and stress and a third part used bioinformatics to look into the fungus' genome for a certain type of binding proteins.

Barlow was impressed with Sides’ initiative and creativity:  “She demonstrated the ability to find the tools necessary to solve the problem she was interested in.  When something didn't work, she found a different approach to the problem.”  Sides used methods ranging from biochemistry to bioinformatics, with the goal of learning as much as possible about the pathogen in order to find solutions and stop the spread of disease.  According to Gunsalus, her findings were so impressive that they “could eventually lead to a peer-reviewed publication.”  Sides received a $2,000 cash prize and a student membership to ASM.

Second place was awarded to Stephanie Hoskins, a senior from Fort Pierce, Florida.  Hoskins’ project was called, “Evaluation of Burkholderia pyrrocinia (FL728) and Paenibacillus lentimorbus (FL92) for the Presence of Genes Encoding the Biosynthesis of Pyrrolnitrin, Pyoluteorin, Phenazine, and 2,4-diacetylphloroglucinol Antibiotics.”  Third place was awarded to Lori Kim, a junior from Salt Lake City, Utah, whose project was called, “Antibacterial and Anti-inflammatory Effects of Myricetin against an Acne-Causing Bacterium.”  Kelli Ann Lynch, a sophomore from Ft. Collins, Colorado, came in fourth with a project entitled, “Irradiation Extermination, Part II: A Portable System to Eliminate Water-Borne Microorganisms.”  Six fifth place prizes were also awarded.  All 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 excitement for the sciences.  Sides summarized the fair’s impact: “Although it is a competition, the students at ISEF build a very supportive community with one another, which is great because we are ‘the future’ of the scientific community worldwide.”