CECIL COUNTY — After a year’s worth of scientific studies and experiments, the next generation of scientists, technology experts, engineers and mathematicians shared their capstone projects with their peers and community members Wednesday at Elkton High School.

Riley Harris, a senior at North East High School who also attends the Cecil County School of Technology, studied bacteria growth among animal, plant and insect proteins with the prevalence of Escherichia coli, commonly known as E. coli, as an indicator of a healthy digestive system.

Although many people associate E. coli with diarrhea and other illnesses, most strains of the diverse group of bacteria are harmless, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Harris said some of those harmless E. coli strains could be used to promote a healthy gut.

“I know E. coli sounds scary, but the one strand that everyone thinks of is only that: one strand. It’s called the Shiga toxin and that’s not what grows in your stomach most of the time,” she said. “What grows in your stomach and small intestine, that’s the probiotic one that helps aiding with digestion and helps aid with your overall gut health.”

As a vegan herself, Harris wanted to analyze how beef, soy and crickets ranked in relation to the promotion of gut health.

“In America, a lot of people assume that vegan alternatives are not as good for you as others like animals, so this would help confirm that what I’m doing for myself is still good for me,” she said.

By creating agar plates with the different nutrients and placing E. coli on those plates, Harris found that soy had a much higher average coverage of E. coli growth compared to that of beef and cricket.

Lauren Johnsky, a contract specialist at Aberdeen Proving Ground, mentored Harris this year along with three other CCPS students.

“I grew up in the lab,” said Johnsky, who has a master’s degree in molecular biology. “I used to do DNA sequencing and microbiology, a lot of the same kinds of techniques that they’re using in their projects.”

After Johnsky was matched with her mentees, they started emailing back and forth to share scientific papers and ideas for the project.

“I’m there all along the way so they can bounce any ideas or problems off of me,” she said.

As a STEM professional, Johnsky said it’s quite valuable for these students to have experience in navigating the scientific process from start to finish, such as crafting a hypothesis, designing an experiment to test that hypothesis, conducting statistical analysis on the data they’ve gathered, writing a research paper, and presenting their work.

“Last week, I had the privilege of being able to watch them give presentations to a group of people all about their projects, which is really cool because they’re excited about what they did and I’m excited for them … Then tonight they get to share it with their family and friends and see what they’ve done for the whole year. It’s a huge amount of time invested, so they really should be proud of what they’ve done,” she said.

Harris will be attending the University of Maryland, College Park, for bioengineering and will also be in the school’s scholar’s program for global public health. She said being part of “Project Lead the Way: Biomedical Sciences” at CCST helped set her on her current path.

“It helped me realize that this is something that I want to do,” she said. “Before that, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in college, and through this course I realized that engineering is something I want to do and I did really want to go into the medical field and help change the world in that way.”

Being involved with the STEM program also helped NEHS junior Yailynn Ramirez discover her own passion for the biomedical field despite some skepticism when she first began the program.

“I went into the STEM program not knowing what to expect because I really didn’t think I would be interested in it to be honest … It’s inspired me to actually pursue a field in this area,” she said. “I would like to be in the biomed field, just looking at where diseases come from, how can we stop them, how can we prevent them.”

For her capstone project, Ramirez tested the water quality of water fountains and water bottle filling stations at NEHS and an undisclosed local business by taking bacterial samples from the water spigots at each of those facilities.

During her experiment, she found that the water bottle filling stations were more sanitary — as well as more environmentally friendly — and she suggests schools should invest more in such options.

“Children’s safety should be first in our schools so making sure they are not getting these diseases should be No. 1,” she said.

CCST senior Tariq Smith also wants to improve public safety, choosing to focus on reducing concussions among athletes for his project.

Smith, who is also a student at Bohemia Manor High School, has experience six concussions in his athletic career, so he decided to study how to build a safer helmet.

“I looked at a regular helmet and I basically gutted it to see what was inside of it and what was effective,” he said. “I started to add my own applications in there and started testing it, and over time it ended up proving the results as positive at preventing concussions.”

Smith determined that a modified helmet with more foam padding better absorbed vibrations than an unmodified helmet.

“A regular helmet is 90% hard plastic and 10% soft foam,” he said. “What I would do is change those numbers around. I would make the helmet more foam and focus a little less on the hard plastic, but enough to provide comfortability and also stability while also providing protection.”

Perryville High School junior Alicia Lloyd, who plans to pursue a career as either a mechanical or aerospace engineer, designed a pen that would be easier to use for her family members with Parkinson’s disease and others who experience hand tremors.

“I 3D printed it, I put a small vibrating motor inside of it and connected it with wires to a battery and then to a switch so it turns on and vibrates,” she said. “It’s really heavy so it counteracts the tremors and it weighs the hand down.”

Lloyd had those family members, as well as people at a local nursing home, test her pen and a regular ballpoint pen by trying to draw a straight line. She then measured how many times they strayed from the model line.

According to Lloyd, most people found the redesigned pen easier to use though it did come with mixed reviews.

“A lot of people thought it was really cool. A lot of people liked it. Some people, it wasn’t as easy to write with,” she said.

For Lloyd, it’s all a learning process, and she said that if she were to design it differently she would play with the motor strength, weight and exterior feel of the pen.

Elkton High School junior Caroline Parker studied how red wiggler worms could be used to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere after being produced through the decomposition of organic waste.

“When you throw out banana peels, orange peels and things like that into the air outside, it just releases the carbon dioxide and I wanted to find a way to reduce that,” she explained.

Parker filled four bins with organic waste and bedding material, and set them up with ¼, ½ and 1 pound of worms, as well as one with no worms. She then allowed the worms to process the waste and used a carbon dioxide sensor the measure the parts per million of carbon dioxide in each of the bins.

Although the sensor originally gave a readout that the bins with more worms produced higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, Parker discovered through further research that this was because the worms had returned that carbon dioxide to the soil through a process called stabilization, whereas the bins with fewer worms merely released the carbon dioxide back into the air.

If she were conducting the experiment again, Parker said she would use a soil probe to get a more accurate measurement of carbon dioxide contained in the soil versus released into the atmosphere.

All in all, however, Parker said the project was a good wakeup call to just how much organic waste gets disposed.

“You end up throwing out a lot of organic waste and I collected a bunch from teachers and fellow students at my house. I collected like 8 pounds in a couple days, so it’s really a lot that you just throw away,” she said.

Also an EHS junior, Tyler Vega sought to redesign the track spike shoes that track runners use.

According to Vega, there is one pin available that runners can use in their shoes while running on the road. That blank pin, with a rounded screw type design, is ground down through use and becomes difficult to unscrew, Vega said

“The only problem with that is after running on the road a bunch, it grinds down and the thread of it strips so that you can’t use it over time and you can’t unscrew it from your shoe,” he said. “One might say just don’t run with any pins in it, but the threads will get actually stripped after a little bit and you can’t actually run with the shoe on.”

To try to solve that problem, Vega redesigned the head portion of the blank pin so that it had a small buffer zone that would be ground down and would allow for easier removal.

After using a 3D printer to create his pin, Vega conducted his experiment where he did 240 drags over sandpaper with a weight on top of the shoe with both the original and redesigned pins.

“It was pretty much almost completely grinded down, but my pin was still unscrewable whereas this one had no area able to be unscrewed,” he said.

After undergoing CPR training himself, Rising Sun High School junior Sean Delker wanted to test the effectiveness of various teaching strategies for that training.

“I was a lifeguard last year and they taught us CPR through only a video and then they just gave us a card,” he said. “I didn’t really feel qualified so I wanted to see whether or not that would resemble me as qualified enough to perform CPR on a real person.”

He divided a group of sophomores into 15 visual learners and 15 hands-on learners.

The visual learners were trained by using a CPR device on a mannequin that was plugged into a computer and displayed a game. The game showed a heart each time the CPR trainee was supposed to pump the mannequin’s heart, and displayed the word “breath” each time a breath needed to be given to the mannequin.

The hands-on learners watched a video detailing the necessary compression depth and rate, as well how much breath to give the person.

After undergoing training, members of both groups were tested on their knowledge application by performing CPR on a mannequin without the aid of the game or video. Delker then averaged the scores of the members of the respective groups, and found that the group that had learned CPR through the video scored on average 5% better than the game device group.

Despite these results, Decker recommended CPR trainees should learn with a combination of hands-on and video instruction.

“You should have hands-on practice and you should watch plenty of videos with real doctors and instructors that really teach you what to do rather than just play a game or just watching a video and you think you’re a pro,” he said. “You should really get training with a professional and get yourself licensed.”

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