Pictured are (from left) Kelvin Lee, Rose Lounsbury, Brandon Walker, Anna Gonye, Gov. Jack Markell, Bansri Patel, Isa Akerfeldt-Howard (rear), Esther Kernosh and Mrugesh Dave.

Science stars

High school students, teachers honored at BioGENEius event

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10:29 a.m., March 22, 2013--They may be just high school students but the Delaware BioGENEius finalists are working on groundbreaking research projects from determining the effects of environmental toxins on human health to using computational modeling for understanding how mutations affect the stability of lactase.

These innovative students and two high school science teachers were honored during the 2013 Delaware BioGENEius Challenge Awards ceremony held Monday, March 18, at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) at the University of Delaware.

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From this group of students, two have been selected to represent that state of Delaware in the U.S. National BioGENEius Challenge, a scientific research competition for high school students.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell announced the winners and Kelvin Lee, DBI director and Gore Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UD, welcomed the awardees and their guests to the third annual event.

“Our students, which are drawn from all around the state, have been great representatives of Delaware, and are the most promising of the next generation of scientists,” Lee said. “This year’s winners will be invited to compete at the National BioGENEius Challenge later this year.” 

Anna Gonye, a junior from the Charter School of Wilmington, and Bansri Patel, a junior from Sussex Technical High School, will represent the state at the April 20-21 National BioGENEius Challenge in Chicago.

“Congratulations to the students. This is a really important opportunity that you have availed yourselves of,” Markell said. “There are three billion people looking for work in the world today, and only 1.2 billion jobs are available. That is why the work you are doing is so important.” 

The co-winners were selected from 12 finalists chosen from the New Castle County Science Expo, the Kent County Science Fair and the Sussex County Science Fair events.

Also in attendance were finalists Isa Akerfeldt-Howard, a junior from the Charter School of Wilmington; Brandon Walker, a junior from Tall Oaks Classical School in New Castle; and honorable mention recipient Mrugesh Dave, a junior from the Charter School of Wilmington.

Other schools represented by the 12 finalists included Sussex Central High School, Indian River High School and Cape Henlopen High School.

Teacher awardees, nominated by their students, included Rose Lounsbury of the Charter School of Wilmington and Esther Kernosh of Cape Henlopen High School.

“In Delaware, we are putting a lot of emphasis on education in science and technology, and I think this is more important than ever,” Markell said. “It’s great to have wonderful teachers.” 

Lee also lauded the teachers, who were cited as having a meaningful impact on student interest in science.

“I want to thank all of the teachers who have played a particularly important role in supporting and nurturing today’s students,” Lee said. “The teachers we recognized today will receive an all-expenses paid trip to the 2014 National Science Teachers Association Conference in Boston.”

Kernosh said, “I love working with the kids. The science projects are required, but the students get to choose their own project.” 

“This has been very inspirational,” Lounsbury said. “It’s wonderful to teach children who work extremely hard in class and on these projects.”

After the awards ceremony, the students and teachers were given a personalized tour that offered a sneak peek of UD’s new Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory (ISE Lab) before the scheduled fall opening.

About the students

Anna Gonye’s project was titled “The Effects of Environmental Toxins on Planarian Regeneration.” Gonye said she “got interested in science through my parents, who are both scientists. I’d like to study medical science subjects and be able to either make my own discoveries or do my own take on discoveries that have already been made.”

Bansri Patel researched “Evaluating the Behavioral and Developmental Effects of BPA and BPS on the Model Invertebrate C. elegans.” Patel said, “There has been groundbreaking BPA (an ingredient in older plastic bottles) research, but little has been done in the BPS area. I want to be the first to try to do this.”

Isa Akerfeldt-Howard’s project was “Survivability and Metabolite Production of Ruegeria pomeroyi in the Presence of DMSP and Propionate.” 

Brandon Walker researched “SOD2 Gene Expression in Obese Prone and Obese Resistant Rats.” Walker said, “Three years ago my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I went to Karen Baskerville, chair of the biochemistry department at Lincoln University and she offered me a summer internship. I would like to be a neurosurgeon.” 

Mrugesh Dave’s project was “Optimizing the Final Yield of Ubiquitin in Recombinant Escherichia Coli Cells.” Dave said, “My project is about proteins and cells. I’m leaning toward a major in biochemistry and eventually work in industry and then become a professor.” 

About the competition

The Delaware competition is sponsored by AstraZeneca, DuPont, Fraunhofer, Gore, QPS, Siemens and the DBI faculty and staff. 

Lead supporters of the National BioGENEius Challenge are Abbott, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson and Johnson, and Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of global pharmaceutical company Sanofi.

The National BioGENEius Challenge is organized by the Biotechnology Institute, a national organization dedicated to biotechnology education.

Article by Jerry Rhodes

Photo by Evan Krape

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