2021 Regeneron Scholars

Congratulations ALEXANDRA FITZGERALD and LORI SAXENA. Greeley's two Regeneron Science Talent Search scholars were selected from 1,760 applications received from 611 high schools across 45 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and 10 countries. They were chosen based on their exceptional research skills, commitment to academics, innovative thinking and promise as scientists.

On January 21, 40 of the 300 scholars will be named Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists. From March 10-17 all 40 finalists will compete for more than $1.8 million in awards provided by Regeneron.

Meet the Semifinalists

ALEXANDRA FITZGERALD

Standardization of Plastic Particle Extraction and Analysis from Seafloor Sediment

Alex Fitzgerald

How/why did you choose your research topic?

From an early age, I have been fascinated by the beauty of our planet. As I began my science research program in high school, my interest expanded from just this admiration to taking notice of the ways in which humans consciously damage the environment. One of the most evident forms of demolition comes in the pollution of the ocean. Images of waters more greatly populated with plastic than fish, stomachs of seabirds lined with shining films, and fishing lines suffocating aquatic species emphasized the carelessness of humans. When searching for research, my focus was on the intricacies of plastic pollution as the issue does not exclusively pertain to macroplastics that catch the eyes of the public, but the microplastics that go unacknowledged. In working to standardize the methodology for extracting plastic particles from seafloor sediment, the fragility and abundance of plastics were emphasized. Diving into this exploration, I also expanded my scope for research beyond particle extraction and into the presence of plastics in wastewater throughout various stages in the treatment process. Investigating the prevalence of plastics in all facets of life, including wastewater, demonstrated the seemingly infinite presence of plastics in human existence. They are never truly gone, but simply reintroduced into another environment.

Please explain your research in a few sentences.

Plastic pollution poses an increasingly dangerous threat to oceanographic environments, especially in the form of microplastics, or plastics ranging in size from 1 µm (micron) to 5 µm. Extraction protocols for microplastics in seafloor sediment have yet to be established but are greatly necessary as only about 1% of plastics in the ocean are thought to reside in surface waters. My research attempts to explore potentially viable methodology for microplastic extraction and analysis from seafloor sediment using particle floatation. To begin, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) microplastics were added to seafloor sediment that was then processed with Fenton’s reagent, a solution that removes organic material, and separated using a dense salt solution, zinc chloride. PVC is very popular in the construction industry (piping), electronics, and healthcare. PVC’s abundance makes it a practical plastic to investigate. Due to the density differential between the zinc chloride solution and the plastic particles, the particles were suspected to float to the top of the separation vessel. After the floatation period, particles were filtered and 103 were examined using a spectra microscope over the course of three experiments. Through the analysis and comparison of polymer spectra, 14 PVC particles were identified. Demonstrating low rates of recovery for the spiked plastics, the proposed procedure was deemed a non-viable solution. Although potential sources of error could have arisen in the transport or incomplete analysis of collected filters, the methodology must still be altered. Future research intends to refine such processes by repeating or reorganizing steps to increase recovery efficacy.

What do you enjoy most about the Science Research class?

What is so great about the Science Research program is that it allows each individual to pursue their passion alongside others who are doing the same. Although we are all exploring different fields and working on our projects, we are doing it together. There is a great sense of community in the classroom that carries over through Zoom. I remember in my Junior year, class time was not solely occupied by our searches for mentors, but it was also spent bringing the class together whether that be though a holiday party or simply catching up with a classmate sitting at the lab bench in front of yours.

As for the structure of the class itself, there are few courses that allow you to choose your path, that allow you to truly dive into your passions. The personalization of the curriculum is one of the most significant components to the program and the most meaningful to me. Science Research has not only encouraged my passion, but it has provided structure and guidance as to how to achieve my goals of research and ultimately healing and stabilizing the relationship between humans and the planet

What else - clubs, organizations, teams and activities - are you involved in at Greeley?

Other than Science Research, I am also an executive of the Greeley Sustainability Club, a co-President of GirlUp, a UN affiliated organization that empowers girls to advocate for the advancement of the skills, rights and opportunities of girls across the globe, a Staff Writer for one of the Greeley papers, The Greeley Tribune, a Grant Analyst for the Chappaqua School Foundation, and a Captain of the Horace Greeley Varsity Girls Swim and Dive team.

Your plans for life after Greeley?

After my time at Greeley, I plan on attending college, although I am not quite sure where I will end up at the moment. Throughout college, I will continue to work towards expanding my understanding of threats to the natural world and identifying potential solutions to such threats while pursuing an engineering degree.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

While working to standardize methodology for particle extraction from sediment, I viewed the tireless construction and adjustment of autonomous vehicles designed for oceanic surveillance and an apparatus to instantaneously identify microbial organisms by my engineer coworkers. Throughout this exploration, individuals broke the molds of their own construction, reevaluated ideals that were accepted as fact, and welcomed the constant state of modification and improvement. In this flexibility, one quality remains constant, a need to actively enhance the understanding and preservation of the planet. I see myself joining this community of engineers. I want to be an environmental engineer, one that works with the goal of engineering for the good of society.

LORI SAXENA

Circadian Process in Prostate Cancer and Type 2 Diabetes

Lori Saxena

How/why did you choose your research topic?

Prostate cancer and type 2 diabetes are among the most common diseases in the world, afflicting over 400 million people globally. However, despite the prevalence of the two disorders, treatment methods are limited, and managing the symptoms of the diseases are difficult, especially in developing countries where access to and cost of treatment are major limiting factors. Thus, I sought to help improve the lives of patients suffering from prostate cancer and type 2 diabetes around the world, leading me to conduct my STS research project.

Please explain your research in a few sentences.

Usually, people with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop cancer, but surprisingly, men with type 2 diabetes are less likely to develop prostate cancer. This negative correlation between the two disorders is poorly understood, however, both diseases are widely known to be influenced by disruptions in circadian rhythms, 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock. The goal of my project was to better understand the negative correlation between prostate cancer and type 2 diabetes, and the role that circadian rhythm plays in governing this association.

What do you enjoy most about the Science Research class?

I love learning from my classmates, collaborating and discussing with them the various fields in research, and constantly encouraging each other to do our best work. 

What else - clubs, organizations, teams and activities - are you involved in at Greeley?

At Greeley, I am an Editor-in-Chief of The Greeley Tribune, and an executive for both the Debate Club and Friends of Foster Care.

Your plans for life after Greeley?

I plan on going to college, learning about neuroscience, delving into creative writing, and continuing to do research. 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A medical writer!