Summer Research Experience Student Presentations

Summer Research Experience Student Presentations

As our summer research experience comes to an end, the students are preparing the final pieces of their research projects. Over the past couple of months, these students have designed their own projects, conducted research, and analyzed their findings. With the help of some expert science mentors, students tackled topics ranging from algal blooms to COVID-19 in wastewater and invasive species around trails to recycled water and plant growth.

Now that their research and analysis is done, the next step is for students to present their findings! One aspect of this is modeling the work of a professional scientist by creating journal articles they submit to the Headwaters Research Journal or other scientific journals for publication consideration. And the main event is this week on August 17, 18, and 19, when students will be taking to the virtual stage to present their research!

August 17, 18, and 19, 2021 – 5:30 PM (Pacific)

Join us live on YouTube and Facebook each night to watch all the presentations!


Join us for three exciting nights of learning about our student research projects, and meet the mentors that guided our students along the way!

And if you know any students who would be interested in our fall research experience, applications are now open at:

Full Schedule

Tuesday, August 17 

5:30 Aidan Peterson, Forest Charter School – Ski resort impact on tree health 

5:40 Richard Zhang, The Harker School – Analyzing multiple factors on the chlorophyll-a and oxygen concentrations of San Francisco Bay

5:50 Ryan Bell, Tamalpais High School – What factors facilitate the growth of harmful algal blooms in Marin County lagoons?

6:00 Claudia Fan, The Athenian School – Correlation between precipitation and wildfires in California

6:10 Caitlin Capitolo, The Branson School – California droughts through the lens of Coho Salmon migration

6:20 Lauren Holm, Los Altos High School – COVID-19 vaccines and SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater

6:30 Ashley Hung (Palo Alto School) and Michelle Liu (The Harker School) – Assessment of impact of construction on PM 2.5 levels in relation to income level of housing units 

Wednesday, August 18

5:30 Zach Rosen, Berkeley High School – Climate impacts on wildfires in California

5:40 Cas Salamon, Sierra Canyon School and Fusion Academy – Comparisons of extinct and extant fish morphology

5:50 Jia Qi, Montgomery High School – Sleep quality and anxiety levels

6:00 Rose Dalager, Mill Valley – How does human impact affect the water quality at Webber Lake?

6:10 Amy White, Gunn High School – What effect does human population have on condor population over time?

6:20 Nithya Sunko, San Marin High School – How does recycled water affect plant growth?

6:30 Nicole Stavrakos, Los Altos High School – Viruses

6:40 Will Franklin, Sugar Bowl Academy

Thursday, August 19

5:30 Annette Lu, Olympia High School – Latitudinal diversity gradient and fungi

5:40 Farida Abd el hak, Los Altos High School – How do walking trails impact the introduction of invasive species?

5:50 Claire Xu, Gunn High School – Effect of human activity on soil quality at Foothills Park

6:00 Medha Rajagopalan, Los Altos High School

6:10 Cayden Liu, Jakarta Intercultural School – What type of milk promotes faster seed germination?

Tackling COVID Research Strengthened My Love of Science

Tackling COVID Research Strengthened My Love of Science

“What major do you plan on pursuing in college?” That is a question asked of many high school students. Throughout my freshman year at Los Altos High School, I very quickly discovered that I had a strong interest in the science field, after completing Biology Honors. I first heard about the Headwaters Research Experience from my Biology Honors teacher, who suggested it to students interested in pursuing a career in science. I figured this would be a great opportunity to gain experience, so I registered!

After the first week, I was faced with a huge challenge: deciding on a topic. Although it sounds so simple, the options seemed endless and I found it super difficult to decide on just one topic. After a lot of thought and talking with my mentor, I decided I wanted to develop a scientific question relating to COVID-19. I worked with viruses and diseases in my Biology Honors class and was extremely fascinated by epidemiology. This background experience I had with viruses and diseases made me want to focus on COVID-19 because of its impact on the world this past year. My question was, “How does the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater fluctuate based on the rising COVID-19 vaccination rates in Los Angeles, California?” This type of scientific question meant I would not be collecting my own data by creating an experiment, but instead I would be analyzing different sets of pre-existing data.

I needed the vaccination progress data from Los Angeles County as well as the data for COVID polymerase chain reaction (PCR) units in wastewater for this project. My mentor was great to work with, helping me find the wastewater data among many public data sets.

Speaking of my mentor, at the beginning of the program I was introduced to Keely Rodriguez, a Doctoral Researcher from the University of Nevada. Keely and I have a shared fascination for viruses and diseases, which made it easier to develop my research question and work with her throughout the program. It has been great working with a female scientist this summer and being mentored by someone who has been successful with a career in science was awesome, because this is a path I hope to pursue! Keely has been incredibly patient with me throughout this process, by giving constructive feedback and being super understanding over the fact that this is my first time writing a manuscript. Having a mentor throughout this process was really helpful with the feedback she gave on my work and the support she provided me throughout the program.

To analyze my data, I transferred the already-existing data into a spreadsheet so all the data was visible in one place and used a linear regression to compare vaccination rates and the amount of PCR units in wastewater. The results of my research supported my hypothesis because the figures I presented suggested that as vaccination rates in Los Angeles County increased, the SARS-CoV-2 PCR units in the wastewater decreased. I started analyzing the data available from December 2020 because that is when vaccines started being administered in California after three COVID vaccines were approved for emergency authorization in the United States. One interesting finding I discovered was that there was a dramatic increase in the PCR units in the wastewater in late December after the country’s citizens started being vaccinated. This could be because when people traveled during the holiday time, COVID cases also increased.

Now going back to that question I’m sure many students have been asked, yes, pursuing a career in science is definitely a goal of mine, even more so now that I’m completing my research experience! Science is something I am very passionate about and something that I enjoy learning about. Connecting with my mentor has been a very positive part of this experience, as well as seeing the progress I have made! It makes me feel so proud seeing what I have accomplished so far, knowing I have grown tremendously as a student. I have found the Summer Research Experience with the Headwaters Science Institute to be a great experience for students with a strong desire to grow as scientists, to gain experience in writing a scientific manuscript, and to work with other young scientists and mentors with many years of scientific training.

Lauren Holm is a Sophomore at Los Altos High School. Her research topic was about COVID-19 vaccines and the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater.

Find out more about our fall research program and register here.

Park Day School Investigates Snow Pollution

Park Day School Investigates Snow Pollution

This past week students from the Park Day School’s 7th grade joined Headwaters on Donner Summit for a snow science program themed around snow as a source of water. A majority of California’s drinking water comes from melted snow which also serves as a ecosystem sustaining water source during the hot and dry summer months.

Students collect samples in the field site on Donner Summit.

Headwaters staff challenged students to create their own original research projects around something that would affect the water they consume in Oakland. The students worked together in teams to create a creative array of different projects around this theme. Below are some highlights from the group work. 

A few groups of students noticed on arrival that the snow near the road was noticeably dirtier than the snow elsewhere around the field site and chose to investigate this further. They collected dozens of snow samples from near the road, in clean snow, and many areas in between. Students melted their snow samples and tested them for total dissolved solids (TDS), the concentration of ions like salts in water, as well as the clarity of the snow melt water to quantify how much dirt and organic matter was in the snow.

Students test their findings in their “laboratory” at Clair Tappaan Lodge.

This group hypothesized that they would find a linear decrease in TDS and increase in clarity as they moved away from the road. They found that areas within 8 feet of the road were significantly impacted with much higher TDS and much less clear meltwater while areas further than 8 feet showed very little effect from this human disturbance.  The group also found evidence that particulates from the road not only affected snowmelt water quality but also made the snow near the road darker and warmer causing it to melt faster. While the roads studied did not have salts applied to them, these students hypothesized that the increase in TDS came from the mechanical breakdown of asphalt and sand by car tires. However, they also found an unexpected result of this increase. In their sample sites downhill of the road, this team found evidence that pollutants from the road were entering nearby waterways. 

In their research presentation, these students discussed how the moderate decreases in water quality they observed on Donner Summit could be magnified further downstream in the reservoirs that hold much of the Bay Areas drinking water.  Their project also highlights the importance of wetlands, swales, and catchment ponds which filter sediment and clean water. 

Students share their findings through data analysis presented in this graph during their final research presentation.

This project is a great example of what makes Headwaters student programs so special. They start with students’ own observations and challenge them to explore their curiosity more deeply. Lead by their own investigations, students learn about the ecosystems they live in, how they work, and how to protect these important natural resources.