Eleven students who attend both William Byrd High School and the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School for Science and Technology (RVGS) participated in this year’s prestigious annual Student Project Forum on February 3. The RVGS is located at Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke City.
Students participating from WBHS were freshmen Taylor Dawson, Elizabeth Fedor, Isaac Fix, Adi Iyer, and Joseph Sandzimier, sophomore Erin Wienke, junior Abbey Ingram, and seniors Ryan Buxton, Reilly Hatfield, Luke Johnston, and Richard Qiu.
According to Regina Carson, the RVGS Community Outreach Coordinator, a total of 262 gifted and talented students from across the Roanoke Valley participated in the science fair competition which represents several scientific disciplines, including biochemistry, computer and mathematics, medicine and health, physics, and engineering.
Students select their projects in the fall, or even prior to the opening of school, and begin their research. They spent the month of January during an “Intercession,” focusing full-time on the project to be presented at the forum— finalizing their research and preparing their oral and written presentations.
A panel of over 60 judges evaluated the 154 projects and determined scores based on strength of presentation, comprehension of subject matter, and depth of research. Top-placing students have the opportunity to advance to a variety of local, regional, state, and international science fair competitions.
Carson said the RVGS was founded in 1985 as a half-day specialized regional public STEM school for highly motivated students in grades nine through twelve. The Governor’s School serves students from seven school districts around the Roanoke Valley, including Bedford, Botetourt, Craig, Franklin, and Roanoke counties, and the cities of Roanoke and Salem. Establishment of the RVGS has allowed the participating school systems to pool their resources to the advantage of all.
Students take their math and science courses at the RVGS and their other courses at their home schools. Admission is selective and determined by a competitive process. Parents do not pay a fee for their students to attend; costs are covered by the school districts and the Virginia Department of Education.
Taylor Dawson and Elizabeth Fedor (taking first place in the Plant Sciences C category) teamed up to investigate the anti-bacterial effects of Eucalyptus globulus (a natural solution), testing solutions of various strengths to determine which best inhibited the germination of radish seeds. Their research has implications in the medical field for diseases such as the flu and bronchial infections. Dawson is the daughter of Melanie and Samuel Dawson. Fedor is the daughter of Vanessa and James Fedor.
Isaac Fix worked with Camly Tran from Northside High School on a Microbiology project to discover the effects of Thyme Essential Oil on the growth of E. Coli. with the purpose of finding a cheaper and healthier natural antibiotic as opposed to synthetic ones. Fix said that they faced some challenges during their research, especially in the latter stages when schools were closed for several days in January due to inclement weather. Fix is the son of Liz and Mark Fix.
Joseph Sandzimier researched the effects of a post-workout supplement on the heart rate in fleas. He tested different concentrations of solutions on fleas that swam in the substances for five minutes before their heart rates were measured under the microscope. Sandzimier said that using fleas for testing is more humane than testing on humans, plus fleas are transparent. The major problem he encountered during the project was the death of the fleas when school was closed due to bad weather. Sandzimier is the son of Jason and Julie Sandzimier.
Adi Iyer studied the “Synergistic Effect of Sertraline and Tetracycline on the Growth of E. Coli.” He teamed up with David Whitacre from Hidden Valley High School on a project to determine the anti-microbial qualities of the two synthetic drugs as E. Coli has become increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Their hypothesis was that adding Sertraline (actually an anti-depressant) to the antibiotic Tetracycline would make it more effective, decreasing the pH of the bacteria leading to cellular death. Their project won first place in the Biomedical and Health Sciences A Category. Iyer is the son of Venki and Neeraja Iyer.
Erin Wienke investigated the effect of light quality (green and white) on the metabolism of cyanobacteria, which can be used as a fuel source. She began her research on the biochemistry project at Virginia Tech last summer. The university serves as a community partner for the RVGS, mentoring high school students, hoping “to get them excited about science.” She won third place in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Wienke is the daughter of James and Anne Wienke.
Abbey Ingram completed her research on the effect of IL-6 gene silencing on STAT3 regulation in pancreatic cancer, winning first place in the Biomedical and Health Sciences B category. Her parents are Nikki Hyler and Chanda Ingram.
Ryan Buxton and Luke Johnston teamed up with Trey Orr from Cave Spring High School to study “Using Expandable Graphite and Iron to Clean Up Oil Spills,” winning third place in Environmental Sciences. The real-world, environmentally friendly implications of their project are that oil spills are monumentally complex and expensive to clean up. When graphite expands, it has absorbing properties. Adding iron to the graphite makes it magnetic and theoretically easier to collect oil with less impact on plant and animal life than methods currently in use.
During their project, the trio discovered the difficulties of heating graphite to a high enough temperature to get it to expand. They tried hot plates and Bunsen burners, but eventually had to use Virginia Tech facilities to be able to heat the graphite to 800 degrees Celsius. Buxton is the son of Stephen and Julie Buxton. He hopes to study engineering at either Virginia Tech or UVA. Johnston is the son of Gregory and Laura Johnston.
Reilly Hatfield worked with Brent Flici from Hidden Valley High School and Daniel Hancock from Franklin County High School on the design and fabrication of a robotic arm for use in manufacturing and warehouse settings. The arm works continuously without human supervision when hooked up to a power source. The students built the arm using parts created by the 3D printer at the Governor’s School. The arm moves vertically and horizontally and is also able to pick up spherical, marble-sized objects with a ramp. Hatfield hopes to major in engineering at Virginia Tech and go into a medically related field. Her parents are Fred and Carla Hatfield.
Richard Qiu, along with teammate Matthew Svec from Hidden Valley High School, investigated how diabetes may alter the blood brain barrier (BBB) which protects the brain, compromising its integrity. They studied the topic in dead mice genetically modified to reflect diabetes, in cellular models, and through computer simulations. Their research, which involved use of the Virginia Tech Carilion lab, started in the spring of 2017. Research has implicated diabetes in a host of medical problems including Alzheimer’s disease and blindness. While multiple body systems have been investigated in reference to diabetes, little research has been done on diabetes and the BBB. Their project won first place in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology category.
The William Byrd students commented that with a love for math and science, they decided to apply to the Governor’s School for the challenge of STEM classes, its hands-on approach to learning, the outstanding facilities and equipment available, the rigorous and advanced classes offered such as Multivariable Calculus, and the partnerships available with research schools such as Virginia Tech Carilion.
Makes you feel better about the younger generation, doesn’t it?