Kapaa High students shine at international science competition

Months of research and presentations paid off for five Kapaa High School students, who won top awards in a competition against some of the world’s best young scientists.

Ricky Rodrick, Whitney Haraguchi, and the team of Jeremy Albano, Carrie Esaki, and Sam Moats-Messing, walked away with a combined $2,500 in prize money from the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF), held recently in Cleveland, Ohio.

Juniors Albano and Moats-Messing joined sophomore Esaki to present their team-project, “Isolation and Characterization of Possible Allelo-Chemicals in Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides) and Ti (Cordyline terminalis).”

The three were named the world’s top young “weed scientists,” receiving a first-place award and $1,000 from the Weed Science Society of America. The team also received recognition from the American Statistical Association for their in-depth knowledge of statistics and its application in scientific research.

Rodrick, a senior, qualified for the international competition for the third consecutive year, and received a third-place Grand Award and $1,000 in the category of botany.

His project, “Analysis of a Possible Aphid Toxin in Zuuiki Taro (Colocasia gigantea), Year 3: Continued Isolation and Progeny Testing for Trait-Transference via Inter-Specific Hybridization,” was also recognized by the American Statistical Association for exemplary use of statistics.

Haraguchi, a junior, returned to the international fair with his project, “Mineral Uptake in Lowland Taro (Colocasia esculenta var Maui Lehua) as Affected by Elevated Levels of Copper Sulfate, Year 2: Implications on the Use of CuSO4 for the Control of the Golden Apple Snail.”

The effort won him a fourth-place Grand Award and $500 in the category of botany. Haraguchi impressed judges with his research that addresses the serious snail problem that his family and other Hanalei taro farmers are currently facing.

As Grand Award winners, both Rodrick and Haraguchi will have asteroids named for them. Minor planets circling the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter will officially be named for each of them.

“For the past couple of years, students have conducted research as part of the school’s agriculture program, in its ongoing efforts to align itself with the state’s new standards for vocational education,” said their agri-science teacher at Kapaa High, Ray de la Pena.

“The scientific method isn’t just for science anymore,” he added. “In fact, the school’s voc-ed department provided a large portion of the funding for the trip. Substantial funding was also provided by the Kauai Taro Growers Association,” he continued.

“Along with the school’s administration, they have been strong supporters of our taro-research program for the past several years.”

The students said they are grateful for the assistance provided by the University of Hawaii, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, Kauai Branch Station, as well as the science department at the Kamehameha Schools, Kapalama campus on Oahu. Access to Kamehameha’s lab facilities opened up tremendous opportunities not typically available to Hawaii’s public high school students, de la Pena said.

The Kauai group spent the week in Cleveland mingling with the world’s top science students, and presented their research to world-class scientists, several Nobel Laureates, and a contingent of current and former U.S. astronauts including former U.S. Sen. John Glenn.

The Intel ISEF is the culmination of school, regional, state and national science fairs involving over 1,000,000 students in all 50 states and 37 foreign countries and territories.

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