Science Project Cleans Up at State & National Fairs

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Thursday June 23, 2011

In April, SB High School Accelerated Biology students competed with their peers for state and national awards and scholarships at the Vermont Science Fair held at Norwich University.  Among the 200 attendants, 35 South Burlington students were recognized for their achievements, including sophomore Riya Patel, whose research project quite literally cleaned up.

Accelerated Biology and AP Environmental Science teacher Curtis Belton says South Burlington students are required to identify a project and begin their scientific research beginning in June.  Diligent students tend to compete very well at the state fair in April, with no exception this year, as more than 50 prizes were claimed by Belton’s prodigies.
Influenced by the 2010 Gulf oil spill, Patel investigated solutions for swifter, more natural ways to clean up contaminated water.  She discovered the term bioremediation, the use of microorganism metabolism to remove pollutants, which spawned her investigation. 

“I was curious,” Patel said. “I made a recipe to feed microorganisms a power food that can maximize the amount of oil that’s being biodegraded.”

Working with a professor at St. Michael’s University, Patel conducted her experiment, Optimization of Bioremediation, and in 10-weeks time discovered the microorganisms biodegraded 49.6 % of the oil treated with her solution of iron sulfate and nitrogen-phosphorous/potassium fertilizer, as compared to 14.4 % without the food solution.

Along with a gold medal award and honors, the judges at the Vermont Science Fair selected Patel as a delegate to the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles in May, where she received a special award from a Saudi company along with a medal and $2000, and a delegate to the International Sustainable World Energy Environment Engineering Project Olympiad (I-SWEEEP) in Houston in May, where she won a special award from Texas A&M University and a bronze medal with $400.    

“I’ve always loved science. It’s always been one of my strongest subjects,” said Patel, who had dreamed of becoming a lawyer since the age of three but may now see her future in the medical field.  “I’m always fascinated by how science impacts our world.”

“Riya is an excellent student and a thoughtful researcher,” said Belton, a teacher with the South Burlington School District for 34 years. “She is very resourceful.  It shows in the way she carries herself and the mastery she demonstrates when presenting her work.”

On June 23, Patel, who says all her cash prize winnings are going into a college fund, will compete in the U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize Fair in Chicago.

“The most rewarding prize for me was traveling across the country and making friends from all over the world,” shared Patel, who marveled at the science projects shared by an international field.  “I couldn’t believe that the experiment I had done in my basement had brought me so far.”

SOURCE: Lisa Osbahr, Correspondent