Cedar Shoals Student Heads to International Science Fair
Lets hope this junior from Athens, Ga., knocks 'em dead with her fabulous project!
This weekend, Erin Hollander is headed to her dream destination: Pittsburgh.
Well, that's not really her dream. The place could be Philadelphia or Poughkeepsie, for all it matters. Pittsburgh is just the place where the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is held this year.
And 17-year-old Erin has been dreaming of attending this event since she was in the fourth grade. That's when she first entered the Georgia Science and Engineering Fair, a venue for displaying the science and engineering research of middle- and high-school students in the state.
Four years later, she won the grand award for the junior division in the Georgia Science and Engineering Fair. Her project was on using lichens as bioindicators of environmental health. She conducted her work at home.
This year, she won the Pinnacle Award at the science fair, for her project entitled: "Carotenoids for a Cure: Zeaxanthin production by the hydroxylase enzyme of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii." That’s the biggest prize of all for those who “do” science fair. That's why Erin is going to Pittsburgh, to throw down with students from across the world who have a passion for science.
"I’m kind of weird in that neither of my parents is in science," Erin says.
She's also not the stereotypical science geek. In addition to liking science, she plays tennis, does Tae Kwon Do, plays the piano and is the incoming president of the National Honor Society at Cedar Shoals.
Her father Barry teaches in the University of Georgia's journalism school, while her mother Edith is the administrative assistant to the head of the UGA School of Music.
“If you are really interested in science, and in finding out something about the world and in doing something important, how you succeed is that you just love it,” Erin says.
If you're like Erin, you just find a way into a lab with the necessary equipment.
She did the research for her science fair entry last summer. She was part of UGA's Young Scholars Internship Program, which gave her access to the laboratory of scientist Wayne Parrott at the university. Those in the lab were studying astaxanthin, the organic pigment that makes salmon and cooked shellfish pink.
In the project that won the Pinnacle Award, Erin focused on zeaxanthin, the pigment that gives corn, saffron and many other plant tissues their characteristic color, because zeaxanthin is widely used in the treatment and prevention of age-related macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in America.
Zeaxanthin supplements are very costly. Erin wanted to find a way for people to protect their eyes without relying on an expensive supplement.
So far, she’s taken the gene for zeaxanthin from a green algae and put it into the bacterium E. coli, a first step in further molecular genetic manipulations that she hopes will allow her ultimately to transfer the gene into crop plants, like soybeans. People can then eat the soybeans to protect their eyes, instead of buying the expensive supplements.
But she doesn't know where or when she will continue this work. She's heading to the Governor's Honors Program this summer, though she is enrolled in UGA for two courses in her senior year.
For now, though, she's thinking about Pittsburgh.
“I am so excited, I really can't believe I get to go,” Erin says. “They have some pretty crazy awards, like $100,000 or $75,000, and of course, I'd like to win, but I'm honestly just happy I get to go.”