Student researchers win big at ISEF

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Out of the many rigorous programs offered at Heritage, science research is unique. Students begin the developing and completing their respective projects well before the rest of the student body thinks about his or her science fair project. Five science research students had their projects make their way to Pittsburgh, Penn last week to represent American Heritage School and the state of Florida at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

In order to qualify for Intel ISEF, students need to win first place at the school science fair, then win another first place at the county science fair, which qualifies a student for the state science fair. This year’s state science fair took place in Lakeland, Fla. over spring break. Out of the 1,000 competitors at the state competition, the top eight competitors qualify for ISEF on behalf of the entire state. These eight competitors won Best in Fair Grand Awards at the state competition. Additionally, Broward County sends its top state competitors to ISEF to compete with about 1800 contestants from around the globe.

Juniors Satya Alagarsamy, Amber Bhutta, Ephraim Oyetunji and Emily Pallack and senior Lauren Waldman all attended ISEF from May 13-18.

Bhutta started working on her project at the end of her sophomore year through the summer research program offered at Heritage. Her project, titled “Combatting Familial Alzheimer’s Disease By Comparing Calcium Retention of Mutated Presenilin Genes and Assessing the Restorative Potential of Parathyroid Hormone in a Caenorhabditis elegans model,” took around nine months to complete. The idea alone took three months to formulate.

“Essentially, I used a parathyroid hormone, a naturally produced endocrine hormone, to correct improper calcium signaling implicated in familias Alzheimer’s Disease and slow the disease progression,” Bhutta said. “To that measure, my project was successful and my hypotheses were supported.”

Over the summer, Bhutta worked on her project eight hours a day for five days a week, and three hours a day most days of the week throughout the school year. Bhutta won Best in State at the state science fair and fourth place overall at Intel ISEF, along with a $500 prize.

“This is my first year in research, and if you had asked me this time last year, I could have never fathomed even winning in the school science fair, let alone making it this far. Science research is a lot of tears and stress, but it also gave me an incredible network of people and connections that I hope to keep far beyond my high school career. I’m so grateful for all of the opportunities the school has afforded me,” Bhutta said.

Oyetunji’s project, titled “Treating Parkinsonian Neurodegeneration in Diabetic, Paraquat-exposed Drosophila by Increasing Caffeine Intake,” found that caffeine significantly improved neuromotor function in the fruit flies he used, as well as reduced the long-term neurodegenerative effects of added oxidative stress. These results indicated that caffeine reduces neurological impairment from Parkinson’s and delays neurodegeneration. Oyetunji’s project placed third at the state science fair and second overall at Intel ISEF.

I was so surprised to get anything at all. More importantly, I am thankful to God and all those who helped me during my project and supported me along the way. It was great to see the hard work pay off,” Oyetunji said.

As a reward for his accomplishment, Oyetunji won a $1500 prize and an additional $500 from the American Psychological Association.

“I look forward to more fun conferences and competitions to meet other scientists throughout the world. This summer I am going to FSU to do research there as well so I am excited to conduct research in a university setting,” Oyetunji said.

Joanne is a junior at American Heritage School in Plantation, Fla. Although this is only her second year on the newspaper staff, her passion for journalism is a crucial part of her life. In addition to constantly advertising iPatriot, Joanne is also a member of Quill and Scroll and Key Club and serves as treasurer of the English Honor Society, secretary of the Chinese Honor Society and secretary and historian for the Mu Alpha Theta math team. While she does consider herself quite the math nerd, in her free time she enjoys listening to music or learning how to improve her photography.

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