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Sara McSweeney, Nasia Meimeteas Named Regeneron Scholars

Harrison High School Seniors, Sara McSweeney and Nasia Meimeteas were named Regeneron Scholars, among 300 student scholars from across the nation. The Regeneron Science and Talent Search is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. Their work was selected among 1,993 applications from 659 high schools in 49 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, Guam and eight countries. Scholars were chosen based on their exceptional research skills, commitment to academics, innovative thinking and promise as scientists.

Sara and Nasia conducted their research over the past three years as part of the high school’s Science Research Program. To be considered for the Regeneron competition, students conduct an original research project, where data is collected and analyzed. In addition, the students complete and submit a comprehensive application which explains the reasoning behind their study, academic background and interest in science.

Students in the Science Research Program have the opportunity to invite experts to become mentors, who typically possess PhDs in the field of the student’s interest.  Science Research teachers, Allison Blunt and Randy Gunnell support students in the outreach process. Mentors volunteer to guide students throughout their research process.

Nasia’s conducted her research under the mentorship of Professor Chris Stout at Oregon State University. A summary of her research appears below and is titled: Predicting the Relationship between Marriage and Discussion of Women’s Issues in Congressional Representatives: A Multiplicative Interaction Model Approach

Sara’s research was conducted with the guidance of mentor, Professor Jill Farrant at the University of Capetown in South Africa. Sara was invited to join Professor Farrant at her laboratory to conduct the research first-hand. A summary of Sara’s research entitled, Increasing the Desiccation Tolerance of Eragrostis tef through Exogenous Application of Abscisic Acid to Ensure Food Security, appears below.

As Regeneron Scholars, Sara and Nasia will advance to the next level of competition and their work will be considered to be named one of 40 Regeneron Finalists. Congratulations to Sara and Nasia!

The Regeneron Science Talent Search provides students a national stage to present original research and celebrates the hard work and novel discoveries of young scientists who are bringing a fresh perspective to significant global challenges. This year, research projects cover topics from medicine and health to environmental science. In 2017, Regeneron became only the third sponsor of the Science Talent Search as a way to help reward and celebrate the best and brightest young minds and encourage them to pursue careers in STEM as a way to positively impact the world.

Nasia Meimeteas

Predicting the Relationship between Marriage and Discussion of Women’s Issues in Congressional Representatives: A Multiplicative Interaction Model Approach

Abstract: This study uses a multiplicative interaction model to predict the relationship between marital status and Congressional representatives' likelihood to discuss women's issues. Based on Stout, Kretschmer, and Ruppaner’s (2017) findings that heterosexual marriage in women alters the perception of self-interest by institutionalizing partnerships with men and decreasing the feeling of connection to other women, it was hypothesized that married women would discuss women's issues less often than unmarried women. Alternately, heterosexual married men would support women's issues more than unmarried men because of their connection to their partner. Twitter was chosen as the data source for this study as it provides frequent, unfiltered representative communication. 167,784 tweets from 408 representatives in the 115th Congress were coded for discussing women's issues — defined as the discussion of sexual harassment, sexual assault, pay inequality, the recognition of women, human trafficking, women's health issues, gender disparities in profession, and international women's issues with the exclusion of anti-choice tweets. A multiplicative interaction was used to model the frequency of discussion of women’s issues based on gender and marriage. The hypothesis was supported. The results showed that an unmarried Congresswoman was significantly more likely to discuss women's issues than a married Congresswoman (p<.01). Additionally, a married Congressman was significantly more likely than an unmarried Congressman to discuss women's issues (p<.1). The implications were that unmarried Congresswomen and married Congressmen advocated for women's issues more than their counterparts did. Being able to predict the behavior of future candidates may alter the political choices of voting citizens by allowing them to make more informed decisions.

Reflection:  After the rise in the discussion of women's issues following the MeToo movement, particularly via Twitter, I was intrigued by the construct of marriage and how it influences views on gender equality. The U.S. economy encourages marriage by offering certain tax benefits and program entitlements for married couples. However, the social factors influenced by marriage have been given little attention. I read publications on how race, age, socioeconomic status, and education affect views on gender equality, but few on marriage. This sparked my interest in this particular demographic. Thus, I wanted to predict how marriage affects views regarding gender equality — particularly women's issues. In my search for a way to study marriage's influence on views of gender equality, I read an article written by Professor Christopher Stout about how straight, married women often institutionalize their relationship with their husband. This results in a weaker feeling of connection with other women. This article made me wonder whether marriage and views on gender equality had any relationship. As Twitter has become such a prevalent media for political research, I wanted to ensure the results I obtained were current by using Twitter to collect data. Because I was so intrigued by Professor Stout’s research I reached out to him to ask him some questions about research of my own. He soon after agreed to be my mentor and supported me through my research process. Next year, I will be attending Duke University where I hope to continue conducting research, in particular about women’s healthcare. 

Sara McSweeney

 Increasing the Desiccation Tolerance of Eragrostis tef through Exogenous Application of Abscisic Acid to Ensure Food Security

Abstract: With the world population expected to reach almost ten billion by 2050 and the large loss of agricultural land due to climate change, food security has become one of the largest issues for governments and farmers today. Eragrostis tef is a gluten-free, highly nutritious staple crop for Ethiopia that has the potential to ensure food security. It is drought tolerant, but only partially desiccation tolerant, meaning that it will still die if it loses much of its water. Abscisic acid (ABA), a plant hormone, has been known to confer desiccation tolerance when applied exogenously to seeds. The purpose of this study was to increase the desiccation tolerance of E. tef through exogenous application of ABA so that more countries with little rainfall can use it as a food source. This experiment was conducted in two stages: an optimization and proof of concept, and an experimental procedure. Due to the fact that E. tef was a precious resource, the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana was used in the optimization stage. It was determined that seeds were not the ideal tissue for ABA application because of low germination rates, possibly due to a barrier created by the seed coat. Therefore, in the experimental stage, calli, or masses of undifferentiated cells, of E. tef were used to ensure that ABA was taken up. The hypothesis that ABA would increase the desiccation tolerance of E. tef calli was supported, as ABA-treated calli had a higher relative water content, lower electrolyte leakage, and higher overall chlorophyll and carotenoid content.  

Reflection: I became interested in food security when I saw a graph that showed that in 2050, most of the land we use for agriculture will be lost due to drought. I wondered what would happen to our food supply if the crops that we rely on suddenly couldn’t grow due to lack of rainwater. After watching a TedTalk by Professor Jill Farrant about resurrection plants, or plants that can sustain a prolonged period of severe drought, I started researching what makes these plants so special. I read multiple articles on the topic and found out about abscisic acid (ABA), a plant hormone that plays a key role in helping a plant survive desiccation, or drought stress. I decided to see for myself if ABA could help increase desiccation tolerance in plants and I reached out to Professor Farrant for advice. Through Professor Farrant, I learned that Eragrostis tef was a staple crop in Ethiopia that could play a significant role in providing food security if it could be made desiccation tolerant. I was very excited when she invited me to her lab in South Africa to conduct a study over the summer before my senior year. Initially, I tested the exogenous application of ABA by soaking seeds but when that proved unsuccessful, I used calli (or masses of undifferentiated cells) as a tissue for application. I was excited when my results showed that this method proved successful. I have been offered the opportunity to go back to the lab this summer and I plan to continue this work in college. Science research helped me discover what I want to do with my life and I would like to build on my research as a career.