Students Take International Honors
Brevard High’s award-winning young scientists are Erika Williams, Sarah Johnson, Kristina Petterson and Meredith Tooley, who traveled recently to Pittsburgh, Pa. (Courtesy photo)
BREVARD, N.C. — “It didn’t feel real.”
That’s what Kristina Petterson, a junior at Brevard High School, said after she and three other BHS science students took home top international science awards (see below).
Petterson, along with Meredith Tooley, Erika Williams and Sarah Johnson, all finished among the top five places in their respective categories at the recent Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Johnson collected fifth and fourth place awards for her individual project. The team of Tooley, Petterson and Williams took home a third and a first place award for their collective group project. Overall, the students collected $4,400 in award money.
The group said the awards came as a complete surprise as they were up against top competition, not only in the United States but from 68 countries worldwide.
“We really felt that we had won just by being there,” said Williams, a junior. “I had been before and nobody from North Carolina had ever won anything, and this year six different projects from North Carolina won awards, so we were really surprised.”
The event ran from May 13-18 and was open to science students in grades 9-12.
The Brevard High group said it was exciting to be around people who loved science as much as they do.
“Everybody had the same common interest in science as you, so you can really interact with them in a way you can’t with most people,” said Tooley, a freshman.
Johnson, the lone senior of the four, said she enjoyed seeing people from different international backgrounds and ethnicities.
“It was cool being around one big science culture that was made up of different cultures from around the world,” she said.
One moment that stood out to her was when a student from Saudi Arabia bent down in prayer on the stage after receiving his award.
The students said the atmosphere of the event was pretty intimidating. As internationally renowned scientists came around and questioned students on their projects, it became clear this wasn’t a hometown science fair.
“It was definitely not a high school experience,” said Petterson, a junior. “It was a really maturing experience, where you had to be serious for six straight hours and be on top of your game.”
Some judges took a friendly approach to their work, while others were strictly business.
“Some of the judges are really excited about your work, and some judges come up and feel like they need to act professional and try to ask you really hard questions,” Tooley said.
The four said as the competition ended and the announcement of winners began they still had no expectations of receiving any awards.
“I wasn’t expecting to win anything, so I was kicked back in my chair when they called our names,” Williams said. “All of my necklaces and purses got tangled as I was trying to get up, and then the JumboTron panned over to me. It was definitely a shock.”
Those who mentored and assisted the students in their scientific pursuits were equally proud of their hard work and accomplishments. They said they knew the students had done good work going into the competition and winning was just icing on the cake.
Brevard High science teacher Jennifer Williams is in charge of the TIME program.
TIME is a club that allows students to pursue scientific research throughout the school year. Students must apply before being accepted and only a handful of members are selected each year.
Williams said she knew going into the competition that students had done good work but was glad to see them receive validation for their efforts on such a grand scale.
“We were thrilled with the students and their projects even before we went to the event,” she said. “But it was really fun to win and see their faces and have them realize that they really are competitive with the rest of the world.”
Awards won from the American Society for Microbiology:
• Meredith Tooley, Kristine Petterson and Erika Williams: 1st place for Isolation, Identification and Characterization of Endophytes from Cherokee Medicinal Plants: Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima), Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens), and Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata).
• Sarah Johnson: 5th place for Anti-Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis Bacterial Symbionts on Aneides aeneus Epidermal Tissue.
Awards won from Intel in the category of microbiology:
• Tooley, Petterson and Williams: 3rd place for same as above.
• Sarah Johnson: 4th place for same as above.
Tooley, Petterson and Williams’s group project studied the potential health benefits of three different plants native to Transylvania County.
Johnson’s project was based on research that focused on a fungus that causes Chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease known to devastate amphibian populations worldwide.