K-12

Digging dirt pays off for one St. Louis high school student

Monday, March 14, 2016

Monica speaking to judges one-on-one about her research Presenting to the panel of judges
Many of us run for the sink when we get our hands dirty, but not Monica Malone who loves plunging her hands into a pile of rich soil.
 
“I find the layers, or horizons, in the soil and the differences in texture very interesting,” admits Malone.
 
Her passion hit pay dirt recently when the senior at Horton Watkins Ladue High School took home first place at the Academy of Science St. Louis Science Fair this past February for her experiment on soil microbes. The award came with a $3,000 college scholarship and an all-expense-paid trip to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, AZ, this May.
 
For her research, Malone studied differences in the diversity of microbial communities in tilled versus non-tilled soils. Tilling, which involves mechanically preparing an agricultural field by breaking the ground, is thought to disrupt the microorganisms in the soil and adversely affect soil health. No-till, in contrast, is thought to provide a more favorable environment for soil microbes and thus contribute to the health of the soil.
 
To test if the microbial communities were affected by tilling or not, Malone collected soil samples from various sites and then analyzed the samples for nutrient content, pH, active carbon, and other characteristics. She also extracted DNA from individual microbe colonies found in the soil samples.
 
“Through sequencing, I found a greater diversity of soil microbes in the no-till soil,” said Malone. 
 
She then evaluated the difference in microbial diversity using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE), a method that isolates total microbial genome DNA to compare DNA banding patterns between till and no-till soil cores. Results showed that the microbial communities in tilled soil were less diverse than in non-tilled soil.
 
The finding adds to a growing body of evidence against tilling as a beneficial agricultural practice. Tilling already has been shown to contribute to soil erosion and release of CO2 into the environment, contributing to global warming.
 
“My research helps prove that tilling soil also disrupts the natural microbiome in the soil. It is possible that many beneficial microbes may be lost when tilling occurs,” she said.
 
Malone conducted her research at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, where she has been doing research for nearly three years with her mentor Dr. Terry Woodford-Thomas. As Leader of the Science Education & Outreach Team for the Missouri Transect Project, Woodford-Thomas initiated Missourians Doing Impact Research Together (MO DIRT), a citizen science project focused on soil health.
 
“I became interested in soil science after Dr. Woodford-Thomas pulled a bunch of soil cores and brought them into the lab,” recalls Malone. “Her excitement about soil science inspired me to learn more about soil science in general.”
 
Malone entered her research project into the Honors Division, which consisted of two rounds of competition – a one-on-one interview with judges and a 10-minute presentation to a group of judges followed by a 5-minute Q&A. Malone admits she was at first nervous.
 
“But as soon as I started to present, I felt much more confident. I was able to clearly convey my message and answer all of the judges’ questions,” she said.
 
Malone will be recognized at the Academy of Science 2016 Outstanding Scientist Awards Dinner at the Chase Park Plaza on April 7, 2016. 

For more information about the Academy of Science St. Louis Science Fair, visit:
 
The Academy of Science – St. Louis
St. Louis, MO 63110
(314) 591-0310

Missouri EPSCoR helps fund 1-acre permanent agriculture exhibit at SLSC

Monday, December 7, 2015

St. Louis Science Center announces new 1-acre permanent agriculture exhibit

St. Louis Post Dispatch

November 23, 2015

By Sarah Bryan Miller

The St. Louis Science Center announced details Monday of a new one-acre permanent exhibit on agriculture. Titled “GROW,” it will teach about “food from farm to fork.”

The $7.3 million project will be paid for primarily by private donations and bond money from 2014 and in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation EPSCoR program. It is expected to open next summer. The first major addition of a permanent exhibit at the center since 1991, when the facility’s main building was constructed, it will be built on the former Exploradome site, at 5050 Oakland Avenue.

The idea for GROW arose before the by-then-outdated Exploradome was deflated in 2013, said Science Center president and CEO Bert Vescolani, who began his job in December 2011. In talking about possible new exhibits, he said, the staff realized that with the global population expected to rise from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, a major increase in global food production will be required.

“We got excited about things that were happening in food and agriculture,” Vescolani said in a telephone interview. “We tested it with our scientific advisers, and it resonated with everyone.”

GROW, which will include more that 40 exhibits incorporating chemistry, economics, life sciences, culture and technology, will be open year-round. Along with an introduction to farming, there will be facts about water, weather and how plants work, and a greenhouse with a working aquaponic farm, in which fish fertilize the plants.

There will also be bees and the Fermentation Station, where visitors can experience what Vescolani called “the power of using microbes and the unique environment that these little critters live in to make the things we love, like cheese and wine and beer,” both during regular hours and as “after-hours opportunities to show off.”

Along with a large running tractor, GROW will have a flock of chickens, and a do-it-yourself farming area. The idea, said Vescolani, “is to learn more about the food that we eat.”

Most of the project will be outdoors, with interactive exhibits designed by Oakland, Calif., firm Gyroscope, and activities. Renowned architect Gyo Obata, working as the lead designer with architecture and design firm Arcturis, will design a pavilion containing permanent classrooms. (In April 2014, Zoo-Museum District board member Pat Whitaker resigned from the board after revelations that the Science Center had awarded Arcturis, her company, a contract worth tens of thousands of dollars.)

GROW seems to be a unique concept. Normally, when a new exhibition is considered, “we look around to see who’s done it really well,” Vescolani said. “But there’s not another exhibit like this anywhere in the world that we know of. Some science centers around the country have done something about farming, but nothing like this.”

The National STEM Report Released

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The ACT has released its 2015 National STEM Report this week, which assesses levels of achievement and levels of interest in STEM among college-ready high school students. STEM is Science, Computer Science and Mathematics, Medical and Health, and Engineering and Technology. The report found that about half of US high school graduates have expressed interest in STEM majors and careers. Other key findings include:

  1. Interest in STEM remains high
  2. Students with STEM interest that is both expressed and measured outperformed their peers
  3. For the first time, students are measured against the ACT STEM College Readiness Benchmark
  4. Interest in teaching STEM subject areas continues to lag

This report shows achievement levels in each area of STEM on the national level, as well as the actual number and percentage of students interested in specific majors and occupations.

View the report here or by clicking the image below:

2015 STEM Summit Agenda Announced

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Missouri Mathematics and Science Coalition will be hosting its 4th bi-annual MO STEM Summit, November 4-5, 2015 in St. Louis. This event will bring together leaders, visionaries from education, business and government to share best practices and to advance the agenda for innovation in Missouri's STEM education and policy development.

This year's Summit will focus attention on high-impact STEM Programming that is being delivered in the K-12 and Higher Education sectors. Emphasis is also being placed upon business and education partnerships that help with career pathway development.

Who should attend? Anyone who is focused on STEM Education at the K-12, postsecondary and in business industry.

2015 STEM Summit Details

Wednesday, November 4th  & Thursday, November 5th, 2015
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel- Chesterfield
16625 Swingley Bridge Road
St. Louis, MO 63017

Click Here for the Agenda

Please contact Brian Crouse at bcrouse [at] mochamber [dot] com or 573-634-3511 or visit www.momathandscience.com.

Digging dirt pays off for one St. Louis high school student

                
Monica speaking to judges one-on-one about her research           Presenting to the panel of judges
 
Many of us run for the sink when we get our hands dirty, but not Monica Malone who loves plunging her hands into a pile of rich soil.
 
“I find the layers, or horizons, in the soil and the differences in texture very interesting,” admits Malone.
 
Her passion hit pay dirt recently when the senior at Horton Watkins Ladue High School took home first place at the Academy of Science St. Louis Science Fair this past February for her experiment on soil microbes. The award came with a $3,000 college scholarship and an all-expense-paid trip to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, AZ, this May.
 
For her research, Malone studied differences in the diversity of microbial communities in tilled versus non-tilled soils. Tilling, which involves mechanically preparing an agricultural field by breaking the ground, is thought to disrupt the microorganisms in the soil and adversely affect soil health. No-till, in contrast, is thought to provide a more favorable environment for soil microbes and thus contribute to the health of the soil.
 
To test if the microbial communities were affected by tilling or not, Malone collected soil samples from various sites and then analyzed the samples for nutrient content, pH, active carbon, and other characteristics. She also extracted DNA from individual microbe colonies found in the soil samples.
 
“Through sequencing, I found a greater diversity of soil microbes in the no-till soil,” said Malone. 
 
She then evaluated the difference in microbial diversity using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE), a method that isolates total microbial genome DNA to compare DNA banding patterns between till and no-till soil cores. Results showed that the microbial communities in tilled soil were less diverse than in non-tilled soil.
 
The finding adds to a growing body of evidence against tilling as a beneficial agricultural practice. Tilling already has been shown to contribute to soil erosion and release of CO2 into the environment, contributing to global warming.
 
“My research helps prove that tilling soil also disrupts the natural microbiome in the soil. It is possible that many beneficial microbes may be lost when tilling occurs,” she said.
 
Malone conducted her research at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, where she has been doing research for nearly three years with her mentor Dr. Terry Woodford-Thomas. As Leader of the Science Education & Outreach Team for the Missouri Transect Project, Woodford-Thomas initiated Missourians Doing Impact Research Together (MO DIRT), a citizen science project focused on soil health.
 
“I became interested in soil science after Dr. Woodford-Thomas pulled a bunch of soil cores and brought them into the lab,” recalls Malone. “Her excitement about soil science inspired me to learn more about soil science in general.”
 
Malone entered her research project into the Honors Division, which consisted of two rounds of competition – a one-on-one interview with judges and a 10-minute presentation to a group of judges followed by a 5-minute Q&A. Malone admits she was at first nervous.
 
“But as soon as I started to present, I felt much more confident. I was able to clearly convey my message and answer all of the judges’ questions,” she said.
 
Malone will be recognized at the Academy of Science 2016 Outstanding Scientist Awards Dinner at the Chase Park Plaza on April 7, 2016. 

For more information about the Academy of Science St. Louis Science Fair, visit:

 
The Academy of Science – St. Louis
St. Louis, MO 63110
(314) 591-0310

 

Tags: high school, K-12, science fair, first place, Monica Malone, St. Louis, Academy of Science, mo dirt, soil science, science education and outreach team, Science Education and Outreach, announcement, feature story, highlight