Blair students win awards at Junior Science and Humanities Symposium

March 24, 2005, midnight | By June Hu | 15 years, 10 months ago

Seniors place first, fourth in Maryland division

Blair seniors Abby Fraeman and Adam Schuyler won first and fourth prizes respectively in the Maryland division of the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) research paper competition, which took place from Feb. 28 to March 1 this year in Chevy Chase. Fraeman will advance to the national symposium, to be held in San Diego from April 27 to May 1.

Ten Blair students participated in this year's state JSHS, according to Magnet Research Coordinator Glenda Torrence. Participants presented their projects and stayed at the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase overnight. To choose winners, a panel of judges perused the research papers of these students and looked at their presentation posters during that time.

At the conference, Fraeman won first place and earned a scholarship of $1,500. She will compete with 400 other symposia winners from 48 participating regions across the country for a chance to win additional scholarship money and to participate in the London International Youth Science Forum, according to the JSHS web site. The national JSHS will name six first-place finalists, six second-place finalists and six third-place finalists, who will be awarded $16,000, $6,000 and $2,000 respectively.

Fraeman focused her research paper on planetary science, and she conducted her experiment over eight weeks during the summer at the Carnegie Institute in Washington, D.C. Her research used a computer program to examine the erratic activities of a clump of comets in order to prove her hypothesis that an unidentified planet exists near the comets. This research also qualified her as a national finalist in the 2005 Intel Science Talent Search.

Schuyler, who won fourth place, studied nerve cells associated with Parkinson's disease. "[My work] was about characterizing dopamine neuron subtypes in the midbrain for the purpose of better understanding certain types of dopamine neurons that are lost in Parkinson's disease so that those types of dopamine neurons could be created from embryonic stem cells and then transplanted into the patient," Schuyler described. Though the work could lead to a treatment method for Parkinson's for humans, in the five months over the summer that Schuyler used to research this topic, he based his work on rodent models. "I was just working with rodent brains from a molecular point of view, not anything directly to do with patients or therapy for that matter. I'm at the step before that," he elaborated. He explains that he is currently continuing his work at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in the National Institutes of Health, where he worked from last May to September.

Also, Schuyler identified a novel pathway between a transcription factor, Ptx3, and a protein, RALDH1. "I found that Ptx3 is essential for RALDH1 expression - in rodents without Ptx3, there was no RALDH1. This pathway is really cool because it could provide some molecular explanation for some of the loss of motor control in PD patients," he said.

Torrence said that she is even more awed by and proud of the complexity of her students' research because she grew up on a farm and went to a small school. "These students took their projects to places I had no concept of 40 years ago, when I was in high school. I am excited as heck that they are getting some recognition for their fine work," she stated.

According to Fraeman, the research process is more fulfilling than the awards, "though they were really nice surprises." Fraeman said that a key factor that set her paper apart from all the other participants' "really nice projects" was her "ability to present [herself and her] work pretty well." As the president of Blair's Forensics Club, she also believes that her public-speaking experiences were advantageous. Torrence concurs. "Abby did more than just make the presentation," Torrence explained. "She sold the product."

Fraeman said she will enjoy traveling to California for the 43rd national JSHS, sponsored by the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force. She believes that passion and dedication to the research topic are the main ingredients in creating a successful project. After having completed this project and having worked as part of a NASA student team on the 2004 Mars Rover Mission, Fraeman feels that her interest in planetary science and astronomy has intensified. She said that she would like to pursue a career in these fields.

Torrence shares Fraeman's belief that the best research project is on a topic that interests the researcher. "I know people who have made amazing projects out of any topic as long as they loved that topic," said she. "There was one project about a turkey pen, one about some benthic bottoms, and those were some of the finest work I had ever seen because the kids really cared about what they were doing."

Fraeman, Schuyler and Torrence's other students were scheduled to visit laboratories at the University of Maryland as part of the JSHS regional competition. However, students were unable to go due to snowfall, Schuyler stated. But even with bad weather, the event was a success according to Torrence. "We just slept in the dorms, we ate in their cafeteria, and we enjoyed every minute of it," she said.

The JSHS, like any other research competitions, is a maturing activity, according to Torrence. "It was a good experience for me and my students," she stated. "They worked so hard, and they threw their hats into the ring, got their work out there. I think anyone who submits their work to be judged shows a sign of maturing. Your research paper is your baby, and putting it out there speaks well of courage."

Schuyler agrees. He encourages students interested in scientific research to participate in JSHS. "Out of the contests I did, JSHS is the easiest contest to enter. They just want three copies of the paper, an entry cover sheet, and that's about it," he explained. "Siemens had a little more, and Intel was really annoying because you need essays and grades and test scores and all this bogus stuff that has nothing to do with your research. [JSHS] is totally worth doing. I think if you're going to take the time to do all this research, it's worth trying to be rewarded for it."

For more information about the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, click here.

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June Hu. June Hu is probably staring at a cloud right now. This Magnet senior (O6!!!) tends to be a little obsessive about nature, as well as about the physiology of people's noses. There is a good and sane reason for that: June is an art freak. … More »

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