Next generation of innovation

Scientific thought leaders in Delaware are considering a wide range of questions, from how to prevent soy milk from spoiling, to the use of silk nanoparticles in drug delivery, to possible detrimental health effects caused by exposure to plastic.

These complex questions are not examples of work being performed by university researchers or industrial scientists. Instead, they are examples of the groundbreaking topics investigated by high school students in the state.

These innovative students and two high school science teachers were honored during the 2014 Delaware BioGENEius Challenge Awards ceremony held Friday, April 25, at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) at the University of Delaware.

From this group of students, two were selected as the Delaware BioGENEius Challenge winners, a scientific research competition for high school students. From these two students, one Delaware winner was selected to represent the state of Delaware in the International BioGENEius Challenge.

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 fourth annual event.

“We continue to be amazed by the talent and determination of our Delaware students,” Lee said. “These young men and women have done extraordinary work towards creating solutions to our world’s food, climate and health challenges.”

Sriram Cyr, a junior from the Charter School of Wilmington, and Bansri Patel, a senior from Sussex Technical High School, were selected as the two Delaware BioGENEius Challenge winners.  The co-winners were selected from 11 finalists chosen from the New Castle County Science Expo, the Kent County Science Fair and the Sussex County Science Fair events.

“I congratulate and commend you on the amazing work you are doing in the area of biotechnology,” Markell said. “We are so fortunate to have such wonderful students here in Delaware.”

Patel was selected to represent Delaware at the June 22-25 International BioGENEius Challenge in San Diego.

Also in attendance were finalists Lance White, a sophomore from Cape Henlopen High School; Rohith Venkataraman, a junior from the Charter School of Wilmington; Tyler Zlupko, a junior from the Charter School of Wilmington; and honorable mention recipient Arthur Wang, a junior from the Charter School of Wilmington.

Teacher awardees, nominated by their students, included Christina Schneider of the Tall Oaks Classical School and Glenn Hartman of Archmere Academy. They will receive an all-expenses paid trip to the 2015 National Science Teachers Association Conference in Chicago.

Markell also applauded the teachers and recognized their role in inspiring and impacting student interest in science.

“I want to thank all of the teachers who have contributed so much to our students,” Markell said. “Your hard work often goes unnoticed so it gives me great pleasure to recognize you here today.”

About the students

Bansri Patel’s project was titled “A Novel Study on Behavioral and Reproductive Consequences of Embryonic Exposure to BPA and BPS in the C. elegans Model.”

Patel said, “Manufacturers have been replacing BPA (an ingredient in older plastics) with BPS, the supposedly safer substitute, but not much is known about the effects of BPS on human health.”

Sriram Cyr researched “The Effectiveness and Antimicrobial Activity of Silk Fibroin Nanoparticles in the Release of Antimicrobial Agents.”

Cyr said, “Silk fibroin nanoparticles were tested for their effectiveness in releasing an antimicrobial agent and combating bacterial growth.”

Brandon Walker, an honorable mention recipient, researched “The Effectiveness of C. Elegans Neuron AWC in Enhancing Short-Term Associative Memory via NaCl-based Learning.”

Aurthur Wang, an honorable mention recipient, researched “The Effects of Surfactants on Soybean Milk Particle Size.”

Lance White’s project was “How pH Affects the Growth of Algae.”

Tyler Zupklo’s project was “How Sweet It Is: The Impact of Artificial Sweeteners on Human Health.”

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 Katie Lakofsky

Photo by Evan Krape