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!

YouTube: https://tinyurl.com/hn6r6mms
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HeadwatersScienceInstitute

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: https://headwatersscienceinstitute.org/science-camp/digital-research-program/

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.

Wildfire Science Lesson Packet

Wildfire Science Lesson Packet

Get The Lesson

In this lesson, we address the science behind wildfire and address some critical questions: is the season getting longer? Are fires getting worse? What should we do about that?

Get this lesson: You can download the full packet here or read a condensed version of this unit below.

Worksheet: Download just the worksheet or there’s a copy included in the packet.

Overview: 

Wildland fire occurrence and suppression has had a long and varied history in our country.  For most of the 20th century, any form of wildland fire, whether natural or human caused, was quickly suppressed for fear of uncontrollable destruction. Today policies have evolved to using fire as a tool, such as controlled burns.  Climate change has increased the frequency and severity of wildfires creating “100 year” fires every couple years.

 

Historically fire would help clean out the understory and dead plant matter in a forest, allowing native tree species to grow with less competition for nutrients. Native Americans would often burn woodlands to reduce overgrowth and increase grasslands for large prey animals such as bison and elk. When the US Forest Service was established in 1905 fire suppression became the only fire policy for the next 50 years. In 1968 the National Park Service changed its policy to recognize fire as an ecological process. 

Video resources:

Interactive map of fire alerts on world map – Global Forest Watch’s interactive map of global fire activity shows where in the world there’s been a fire in the past 24 hours.

Why Are There So Many Fires? – A video from The Guardian with great visuals addressing why the amount of fires has increased so much.

Fire tornado in Loyalton fire – A short video clip of a fire tornado caused by the Loyalton, California fire in August 2020.

Sample Research Project:

Matchstick Forest Demonstration: Students learn how wildfires behave and spread by placing matches in a variety of configurations. This sample experiment can be adapted for many grade levels.

Sample Research Questions: 

  • How does the fire change depending on the configuration of the matches
  • Is more smoke produced when the matches are close together or far apart?
  • How long does it take to burn all the matches when they are close together?
  • How far apart do the matches have to be to not burn when one is lit?
  • What happens when some matches are taller than others?

NGSS Standards:

MS-LS2-3; MS-LS2-4 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

HS-LS2-6; HSLS2-7; HS-LS2-8 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

SEPs:

  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Constructing Explanations and designing solutions
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

CCs:

  • Cause and effect
  • Stability and change
  • Patterns
  • Systems and system models

 

 

Microclimates Lesson Packet

Microclimates Lesson Packet

Get The Lesson

Learn about microclimates and how are especially important for species diversity in this lesson.

Get this lesson: You can download the full packet here or read a condensed version of this unit below.

Worksheet: Download just the worksheet or there’s a copy included in the packet.

Overview: 

A microclimate is a local set of atmospheric conditions that differ from those of the surrounding area. Your house is a microclimate from the outside atmospheric conditions. What causes a microclimate in the environment is local differences in the amount of heat or water received or remaining near the earth’s surface. A microclimate can form by an area receiving more energy.  It can be as small as a few square feet or as large as square miles. 

 

Because microclimate environments are so unique, their biological processes such as decomposition, nutrient cycling, and habitat selection can be specific and complex. A small change in temperature and moisture can determine the growth or mortality of an organism. For example, moisture needed for fungi growth can vary depending on the width of a tree canopy. The Earth has 3 main climate zones: tropical, temperate, and polar.  There are many microclimates found in each of these climates all supporting diverse life forms.

Video resources:

Microclimate explanation – A simple explanation of how microclimates work. 

Examples of microclimates and climate change –  an explanation with rich visuals detailing how microclimates work, and providing some photographic examples of microclimates in California.

Sample Research Project:

Description: Investigate the microclimates at your school. Where is the temperature the highest? Where is there more wind? Are there differences in ground temperatures around the school?

Methods:  This guide to microclimate school study from London’s Royal Geographical Society provides sample research questions, methods, and materials to check out microclimates at school.

Sample Research Questions: 

  • How does being close to a building impact temperature?
  • Are temperatures higher or lower in areas with dense brush?

  • Where is the most wind present?
  • What are the major components of soil near a developed area (parking lot or building) versus a vegetated area (playground or field)?
  • where on campus is the humidity the highest?

NGSS Standards:

MS-LS2-3; MS-LS2-4 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

HS-LS2-6; HSLS2-7; HS-LS2-8 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

SEPs:

  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Constructing Explanations and designing solutions
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

CCs:

  • Cause and effect
  • Stability and change
  • Patterns
  • Systems and system models

 

 

Dwarf Mistletoe Lesson Packet

Dwarf Mistletoe Lesson Packet

Get The Lesson

Learn about host/parasite interactions and dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium) through this lesson. 

Get this lesson: You can download the full packet here or read a condensed version of this unit below.

Worksheet: Download just the worksheet or there’s a copy included in the packet.

Overview: 

Host/Parasite interactions: In evolutionary ecology, a parasite is an organism, plant, or fungus that lives in or on another organism, called the host. Without a host, a parasite cannot live, grow, or multiply, so it does not usually kill its host. Both parasite and host evolve together, in a relationship where the parasite benefits from the host, harming it in some way. Some hosts develop ways of getting rid of or protecting themselves from parasites, while others live with the relationship for some time.

Dwarf Mistletoe is a small, leafless parasitic plant which parasitizes native ponderosa and lodgepole pines by slowly robbing them of food and water. They will generally focus their life cycle on one species of pine tree. Dwarf mistletoe has very little chlorophyll so they must put roots into the host tree to extract nutrients. Often at the anchor site this parasitic species will secrete hormones to produce a structure called a “witches broom” which is an overgrowth and will disrupt the branching structure. Dwarf mistletoe can stunt tree growth, reduce seed production and wood quality, and occasionally kill the host tree in times of drought or forest stress.

 

Dwarf mistletoe also has a well studied connection to fire events. As early as the 1970s it was evident that fire suppression was a primary driver of increased dwarf mistletoe abundance in North American forests. A denser forest will aide the reproduction success of this parasite. The resulting witches brooms can act as fire ladders.

Some benefits of this parasite are that squirrels and blue grouse like to eat the mistletoe and infected branches, and witches’ brooms can serve as ideal nesting platforms for birds and small mammals.  

Video resources:

Dwarf mistletoe overview – Visuals and an explanation of what dwarf mistletoe is, plus a comparison between that and the “holiday” version of this plant. 

Dwarf mistletoe music video –  A fun, approachable music video made by students about the seed “explosion” process.

Mistletoe/tree interactions – A concise description with footage of actual infected lodgepole pines discussing the impacts of mistletoe growth. 

Sample Research Project:

Description: students analyze forests near their home for signs of dwarf mistletoe interaction.

Methods:  Students look for signs of parasitism in their local forests within a study area measured with a transect. Students track findings in multiple areas to get an average. If known beetle damage is present, students can also observe localized areas within a single tree using a quadrat.

Sample Research Questions: 

  • Is there more mistletoe on trees at a lower or higher elevation?
  • Is mistletoe the same size or different sizes on each tree? How might this correlate?
  • Do trees that are closer together have more mistletoe?
  • Do larger or smaller trees have more mistletoe?
  • Which part of the tree has the most infection?

NGSS Standards:

 

MS-LS2-2; MS-LS2-3; MS-LS2-4 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

HS-LS2-3; HS-LS2-6; HS-LS2-8 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

SEPs:

  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Constructing Explanations and designing solutions
  • Scientific knowledge based on empirical evidence
  • Planning and carrying out investigations

CC:

  • Stability and change
  • Patterns
  • Cause and effect