Beavers strong on science
Some of the brightest high school science students competed in the Sixth Annual Student Biotechnology Expo on March 6 and a group from Ballard High School impressed the judges enough to win 17 awards.
The expo was held at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue. Projects ranged from traditional laboratory research to science projects explained through art and music. Students also used writing, teaching, modeling and drama to demonstrate their projects.
Over 320 students from Ballard, Eastside Catholic, Franklin, Garfield, Ingraham, International Community, Juanita, Mariner, Mercer Island, Royal, Shorecrest, Shorewood and West Seattle schools completed projects while being mentored by professional scientists from regional biomedical research facilities.
Ballard's Biotechnology Academy combines math, science and Language Arts in its curriculum. Students study advanced mathematics and use it in context with biology, chemistry, genetics and physics.
Ballard students Sheida Aalami, Whitney Hursey and Hanna Lessard took first through third place, respectively in the journalistic writing category. Alice Brown and Caitlin Gallagher earned honorable mentions in journalism to make it a clean sweep for Ballard.
Andrea Porter-Smith won second place for drama and third for genomics. Joey Bodzewski was second in website, Alissa Aron was third in research and third place in the People's Choice Award, Yasu Kawamura received honorable mention for art and Rob Specht was named honorable mention for research.
Rounding out the awardees were Riley Heckel, second place multimedia, plus Kenichi Sato and Anna Ellermeier who teamed up for an honorable mention for career and industry.
Besides Aalami, the other first place winner was Marian Deuker in genomics. Genomics is a complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell or organism.
"They did a lot of work, it was nice to see them standing next to projects and be proud of their accomplishments," said Genetics Teacher Ellen Reimer.
There are 57 students in Reimer's two genetics classes. Students must apply to enter the biotech program at Ballard High. They are not chosen based on their grades. Teachers look for highly motivated kids who can follow through on demanding projects.
"It's hard, intense and very science based. They have to enjoy science. They get more interested as they get into the program," said Reimer.
Aalami is a junior. Her project title was "HSAN Type IV: Life Without Pain."
HSAN (Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathy) Type IV is a genetic disorder. People who have this condition cannot feel pain.
Aalami writes that in HSAN Type IV, "one is unable to feel pain that notifies them of injury, disease or emotional disorder. Thus, patients with HSAN Type IV may become severely injured without acknowledging the problem. Over time injuries, infections and diseases may progress in severity and remain unnoticed. As a result, many patients diagnosed with HSAN Type IV die prematurely..."
Aalami's mentor was Lawrence Lee, a researcher at the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute.
"I looked at the background of the disease and highlighted the cases of people that have it. There are 300 people in the world with HSAN Type IV," said Aalami. For a career, she is interested in becoming an environmental lawyer or may work for a biotechnology company.
Deuker, also a junior, worked with researcher Cecile Kraejsa from ZymoGenetics. "She was wonderful. She helped me in the lab and dedicated herself to my project. She stayed late for me to finish my work. She was really supportive," said Deuker who is considering studying biotechnology after graduation.
"It was nice to see other kids interested in science. There are not many science fairs for kids," said Aalami.
Reimer says she was proud of her students. "We won something in every category except music and molecular modeling," she said.