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Tiny Water Fleas Bring Big Results at Science Fair

Posted on Thursday, November 9, 2023 by for Media, Science Fair.

It's a sunny spring afternoon in May, and as you pass by the annex classrooms, you see over 60 original scientific experiments underway. It can only mean one thing: The annual science fair is in full swing.

A record number of 93 sophomores in the science research program presented at the science fair on May 25, with projects — ranging from the study of Daphnia magna to E. coli and salmonella — judged by fellow juniors, seniors, 26 alumni judges, and 14 teachers.

A past science fair winner who returned to observe, Cindy Li ‘24, said, "It was nice to be on the other part of the spectrum since last year we were the people being judged." The sophomores, now juniors, will have the same opportunity to serve as judges during next year's science fair. But for now, they were focused on impressing the judges with their experiments.

The winning projects involved studying Daphnia magna, a tiny water flea. First place went to sophomores (now juniors) Ahlam Judeh, Dana Flores-Zeledon, and Weiyee Mock. Wan Wu, Joey Chen, Sara Grezda, and Shaymaa Elrashidi came in second place. Third place went to Ravital Reingold, Daisy Meza Veliz, and Jenny Chen. Eleven sophomores also received honorable mentions.

"I definitely wouldn't have been able to do all this without my partner [Mock], and it was our new ideas and opinions that we gave each other that helped move our experiment forward," Flores-Zeledon said.

The duo examined the impact of commonly found minerals on the well-being of aquatic life by studying the effect of calcium citrate, potassium citrate, and zinc citrate on the heart rate of the water flea. Their experiment involved a hands-on study in which they looked at the fleas microscopically.

While it only took them a few school days to obtain their data, the process presented multiple challenges.

"Handling our Daphnia was difficult because they're little crustaceans that jerked around our microscope slides, making gathering their heart rates take longer than expected," Flores-Zeledon said.

Students standing in fron of their poster holding trophies
Sophomores Weiyee Mock and Dana Flores-Zeledon won first place for their project on Daphnia magna.

Presenting was no easy task either – for many sophomores, this was their first time displaying their work in front of their peers and amongst judges. For most, though, the anxiousness was relieved with practice and mental preparation for the short 10–15 minute presentations.

Reingold, who studied the correlation between digital vs. physical print text and a student's exam score, faced a different challenge – discrepancies when analyzing her research data.

"My data was not corresponding with similar studies that were conducted in the past," Reingold said. "I used critical thinking to infer why this could have occurred, and I determined that the limitations of my sample group only containing fellow tenth-grade students, compared to the broader sample groups in past studies, was likely the reason."

The sophomores had less than two months to complete their entire research project — from the proposal to putting it all on the board — which limited the scope of the research they could conduct. However, the students used this obstacle to sharpen their problem-solving and adaptability skills.

Inspired by Daphnia magna, first-place winner Judeh researched whether light caused a significant change in the heart rates of patients with cardiovascular diseases.

"I find it fascinating to see how even the slightest change in [Daphnia's] environment can affect their heart rate," Judeh said. "This allows me to think of how things in our daily lives change our heart rates and whether it is for better or worse."

Other students took advantage of the science fair to research a specific field they're interested in pursuing in the future.

Second-place winner Wu studied the impact of in-person vs. online feedback on students' English vocabulary retention.

"I'm interested in studying neuroscience and software engineering in college and eventually becoming a behavioral or cognitive neuroscientist," Wu said. "This research project allowed me to explore human cognition using the scientific process."

Group of students holding their trophies
The 2023 science fair honorees pose with their trophies.

The young scientists are moving on with their two-year-long projects, but the conclusions they've developed will not go unnoticed. Their experiments go beyond a single fair and toward a bigger picture in scientific research, such as "highlighting the importance of government administration to enforce ways to preserve our world's ecosystems," Mock said.

These projects will inspire the next class of sophomore researchers as they learn about the scientific method and conduct their experiments later this year.

Research coordinator Mr. Glenn Elert offered this advice: "Come up with a creative idea that would inspire people. When presenting, you don't want to bore people with a rehash of something people have done a lot of times. You have to go the extra mile."

Written by Yanhee Rong and Jinyu Xu (Class of 2024)
This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of Argus.

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