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Dr. J.J.? Science fair grand champion may pursue career in biochemistry
By: LAURIE KNOWLES CALLANAN Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer
Warwick High School sophomore J.J. Vulopas has suffered from a milk allergy since he was an infant.
So, he knows what it’s like to substitute other products like soy for dairy milk, and why he needs to check every label on every food item to make sure there is no milk.
"It is a life-threatening allergy," says Vulopas, who took his childhood allergy and turned it into a grand champion award in the Warwick High School Science Fair on March 13.
The science fair was pushed back a week, due to a snow day — minus the snow — on March 6. The awards ceremony was held March 14, with Vulopas and other young scientists taking home honors for their hard work.
More than 90 students participated in the fair, in categories that included biochemistry, botany, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, earth and space science, engineering, environmental science, health and medicine, microbiology and zoology.
Vulopas’ grand championship was in biochemistry, and he hopes to pursue a career in biochemistry, health or medicine one day. His winning project studied the effects of antioxidants on antigen reduction. He wanted to see if antioxidants could reduce the antigen effect of allergies to eggs.
"Even though I am allergic to milk, I decided to study egg allergies, another common food allergy," he said.
His hypothesis was proven correct, and Vulopas was pleased that his project might create more awareness of how food allergies develop, and how they might be controlled.
"It’s something I feel very passionate about, of course," he added.
According to science and chemistry teacher Laurie Hess, that passion is important for students competing in the science fair. The winners will go on to compete in the county-wide North Museum Science Fair.
Champion Emily Norton, a junior at Warwick High School, will also be competing in the county fair later in March. Her project studied the effectiveness of Chitosan Nanoparticles in relation to bovine serum. Her experiment has potential to be used in medicine to build healthy eye tissues. As she explains, it could provide a biodegradable, non-toxic way to treat the human eye.
"I definitely want to go into the science or medical field," says Norton.
Reserve Champion Sammy Wilson, a Warwick 10th grader, was another top winner who plans to pursue a career in science, possibly earth sciences or zoology.
Her project was called Hooked on Aquaponics, and it examined the effects of hydroponics and aquaculture. She studied two different food sources, lettuce and crayfish, to see if hydroponics could be used raise food. The crayfish was a success, the lettuce not so much.
"It shows that crayfish might be the better choice to be raised through hydroponics," says Wilson, adding that restaurants might be able to grow their own fresh "crawfish" for seafood dishes like Jambalaya.
The first place winners in each category of the 15th annual Warwick High School Science Fair included Biochemistry, David Krak; Botany, Helen Seeber; Inorganic Chemistry, Matt Blevins; Organic Chemistry, Adam Wagaman, Earth & Space Science, Jeff Bragg; Engineering & Materials Science, Gabby Uptegraph; Environmental Science, Brittany Olenick, Health & Medicine, Justin Gabert; Microbiology, Ian Hart; and Zoology, Kelley Hershey.
A group of some 30 judges evaluated the projects based on their creative ability, scientific thought, thoroughness, skill and clarity. Judges were members of the local scientific community, including local physicians, botanists, chemists, zoologists, environmental scientists and science teachers.
Topics explored through the projects range from determining whether limonene extracted from citrus fruits can be an effective pesticide to how algae can be used to produce biofuel. Several delved into current issues, such as the effect that chemicals used in drilling for Marcellus Shale have on aquatic organisms.
Junior Michael Hoffman studied the hydra’s effect on symbiotic algae to see if it would remove nitrates from water. Sophomore Rachel Boyer wanted to know if the antioxidant food additive Propyl Gallate could be synthesized. Sophomore Alyssa Knisely wanted to find out if Vitamin C from lemon and orange peels would effectively reduce copper sulfates in the body.
One young scientist even explored the birth of life on earth.
Sophomore Erik Homberger’s project was called Rock Life, and he collected tiny micrometeorites from rainwater to see if they could have possibly been the source of life on Earth.
"It may have been possible," says Homberger, but the amount of amino acids necessary for life that was found in the minute particles is so small that it seemed remote. More SCIENCE FAIR, page A3