Thursday, November 12, 2015

High school DNA Barcoding project in Siemens Competition

The Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology is one of the premier competition the United States. It promotes excellence in math, science and technology. High school students submit innovative individual and team research projects to regional and national levels to compete for college scholarships ranging from $1,000 up to $100,000.

Among the semi-finalists were three students from a high school in Tenafly New Jersey. They were recognized for their research project, "Assessment of Sulfur Dioxide Air Pollution in Central Park through DNA barcoding of Key Indicator Lichen Specimens."

For the project, they chose to determine sulfur dioxide air pollution levels in various areas of Central Park in New York City by examining the concentration of lichen species. Lichens have a specific range of sulfur dioxide that they can tolerate, If there is a concentration of lichens with a high tolerance for sulfur dioxide in a specific area, it can be concluded that there is a high level of pollution in that zone.

The team, which began research in September 2014, traveled to Central Park to collect samples from rocks and trees and subsequently identified the lichen species through DNA Barcoding. The project took six to seven months and involved background research, learning DNA Barcoding technology, sampling, and writing a 14-page research paper, among other tasks. Although the students had never done a project quite so extensive, when they saw their research yield conclusive results, they decided to submit it to the Siemens Competition.

It took a while … to process, to sink in. I was … kind of stunned, because I heard before that no one in the high school had gotten through, and there were a lot of really good projects here in the science research program.

At least one of the students plans to continue his research in Tenafly. He plans to analyze the lichen species in areas with known sulfur dioxide pollution to test the research's accuracy.

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