Protecting Cows—and People—from a Deadly Disease
Watching out for vultures
Got Milk? How?
Frogs and Toads
The Secret Lives of Grizzlies
Koalas, Up Close and Personal
A Whale's Amazing Tooth
Primate Memory Showdown
Lightening Your Mood
The chemistry of sleeplessness
Backyard Birds
Chemistry and Materials
Batteries built by Viruses
A Light Delay
Gooey Secrets of Mussel Power
The solar system's biggest junkyard
Small but WISE
A Classroom of the Mind
Dinosaurs and Fossils
A Big, Weird Dino
Battling Mastodons
The bug that may have killed a dinosaur
E Learning Jamaica
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
E Learning in Jamaica WIN PRIZES and try our Fun Animated Games
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
Wave of Destruction
Pollution at the ends of the Earth
Giving Sharks Safe Homes
Plant Gas
Pumping Up Poison Ivy
Snow Traps
Finding the Past
Big Woman of the Distant Past
Unearthing Ancient Astronomy
Writing on eggshells
Electric Ray
Basking Sharks
Food and Nutrition
Sponges' secret weapon
Allergies: From Bee Stings to Peanuts
Healing Honey
GSAT English Rules
Who vs. That vs. Which
Capitalization Rules
GSAT Exam Preparation Jamaica
42,000 students will sit for the GSAT Exam in two weeks
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
GSAT Exams Jamaica Scholarships
GSAT Practice Papers | GSAT Mathematics | Maths
GSAT stars reap scholarship glory
42,000 students will sit for the GSAT Exam in two weeks
GSAT Mathematics
How a Venus Flytrap Snaps Shut
GSAT Practice Papers | GSAT Mathematics | Maths
E Learning in Jamaica WIN PRIZES and try our Fun Animated Games
Human Body
A Sour Taste in Your Mouth
Disease Detectives
Heavy Sleep
Praying Mantis
Children and Media
The Surprising Meaning and Benefits of Nursery Rhymes
Choosing a Preschool: What to Consider
Speedy stars
Project Music
One ring around them all
Bright Blooms That Glow
Tracking the Sun Improves Plant Pollen
Surprise Visitor
Space and Astronomy
Planets on the Edge
Gravity Tractor as Asteroid Mover
Older Stars, New Age for the Universe
Technology and Engineering
Algae Motors
Machine Copy
Weaving with Light
The Parts of Speech
Adjectives and Adverbs
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Tinkering With the Basic Bike
Middle school science adventures
Where rivers run uphill
In Antarctica watch the heat (and your step)
A Dire Shortage of Water
The Best Defense Is a Good Snow Fence
Add your Article

Toxic Dirt + Avian Flu = Science Fair Success

When Nolan Kamitaki won the $20,000 scholarship grand prize at last year's Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge (DCYSC), he was stunned. "I saw the camera focus on me, and I stood up," says Nolan, who will be a sophomore this fall at Waiakea High School in Hilo, Hawaii. "After that," he recalls, "It was really a dreamlike sequence." Nolan's previous success at science fairs made him eligible to compete in the 2006 DCYSC. And this year, his most recent work landed him at a second prestigious competition—the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Toxic metal in Hawaii Nolan's road to science fair stardom began when he was in seventh grade. He had read some newspaper articles about high levels of arsenic—a toxic metal—found in Hilo's soil. Arsenic can damage the skin, lungs, heart, and other organs. It can interfere with kids' ability to learn. In high enough quantities, it can be fatal. Small amounts of arsenic occur naturally in the Earth, but larger, more dangerous amounts can arise from the metal's use in industry. Particles of arsenic can float in the air as dust. And if arsenic gets into the soil, it can contaminate drinking water and crops. Nolan wondered whether the arsenic in Hilo's soil could be getting into kids' bodies too. Nolan collected samples of soil from the grounds of several schools near his home. He also collected hair samples from students who attended those schools. If the kids had been exposed to high levels of arsenic, the toxic material would show up in their hair. He analyzed the soil and hair samples to determine their arsenic levels. His analyses showed that the soil was highly polluted with the metal but that there wasn't enough of it in the students' hair to put them at risk of arsenic poisoning. "It's a controversial issue," Nolan says. "It surprises people who think of Hilo as such a paradise. It's hard to believe there could be a [pollution] problem like this." Discovery Channel challenges Nolan's work earned him a spot at last fall's DCYSC. For this annual event, the Discovery Channel brings together 40 middle school science fair winners to compete for scholarship money, prizes, and the title of "America's Top Young Scientist of the Year." Students are given a number of scientific challenges and are judged on their problem-solving skills as well as their ability to work as part of a team. Last year's DCYSC took place at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md. Participants worked with NIH scientists on real problems, all with a medical theme. Nolan's favorite challenge of the competition was called "Avian Flu: Something in the Air." For that 90-minute activity, each member of his five-person team took on a role, such as doctor, town mayor, or virus specialist. Nolan's role was to be the team's epidemiologist—a doctor who studies disease patterns. The team's first job was to diagnose a case of avian flu. (To do this, the students received information about a fake patient.) The team then had to devise a treatment plan. The group's third task was to hold a press conference to tell community members about the outbreak and explain what they should do to prevent it from spreading. The work had to be done within a tight time frame. "I got to predict how many people survived and how many became infected," Nolan says. "It was the most exciting challenge to me because it is relevant today." Following up on flu That 90-minute challenge inspired Nolan to study avian flu, also called H5N1, for his next science fair project. Avian flu has been killing birds around the world. The virus that causes the flu has recently mutated, or changed, into a form that allows people to catch it from birds. Like birds, people can get sick and even die from the illness. And while the virus can't yet spread from person to person, scientists fear that if it mutates again, it will gain the ability to do so. That could cause a worldwide epidemic. The disease spreads rapidly, Nolan says. So, in the case of an epidemic, there wouldn't be enough time to make enough vaccine to protect everyone. Governments would have to decide who should get the limited supply of vaccine. For his science fair project this year, Nolan decided to try to find the best strategy to minimize the extent of an avian-flu epidemic by vaccinating the people who would be most responsible for its spread. "It's an important problem right now," he says. "Scientists have to figure out how to deal with the threat of disease. As soon as they know, they have to already have a plan of action." Virtual virus Nolan's first job was to design a computer program that simulated how avian flu would spread through a city. He spent 4 months researching and writing the program. First, he collected data about H5N1 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), medical journals, and other sources. Then, he divided the population into three groups by age: youths, adults, and the elderly. His simulations considered how long people of each age group tend to interact with other people, how long they are contagious before showing symptoms of the flu, and how likely they are to die from it, among other factors. To consider each possible scenario, Nolan ran the computer program 18,000 times. Analyzing the data took about a month. In the end, he found that the best way to stop an epidemic in its tracks would be to vaccinate kids and teenagers. Compared with adults, kids interact with a greater number of people each day, he says, so they tend to spread diseases more quickly. The project taught Nolan a lot about computer science. "You have to go through a lot of revisions to get something you can work with," he says. You win some . . . Nolan's work on avian flu earned him a spot at this year's ISEF, which took place in Albuquerque, N.M. in May. During the competition, more than 1,500 high school students from 51 countries competed for $4 million in scholarship money, computers, trips, and other prizes. Although he didn't win a prize this year, Nolan is more motivated than ever. "It was thrilling to be able to attend a large science fair and meet so many talented students," he says. "The opportunity to learn about many really great scientific ideas was a valuable experience." Next year, he plans to write a more advanced program that analyzes how avian flu could spread between cities and through other means. Merging medicine with computer science, he says, will be the key to preparing for future disease outbreaks. "The interdisciplinary approach to science fascinates me," Nolan says. "Science can't be completed by one person or one team alone. The

Toxic Dirt + Avian Flu = Science Fair Success
Toxic Dirt + Avian Flu = Science Fair Success

Designed and Powered by™