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FHS seniors head to Orlando

Two Farragut High School seniors are bound for Orlando Fla., to the National Junior Sciences and Humanities Symposium to be held at Epcot Center Wednesday, April 30, through Sunday, May 4.

Justin Menestrina and Vivek Patel placed third and fourth, respectively, in the Tennessee Junior Sciences and Humanities Symposium held Thursday, Feb. 28, through Saturday, March 1, at The University of Tennessee, earning themselves the travel-expense paid trip.

FHS science teacher Kristin Baksa said, “We had four students present research at this symposium and they all knew their stuff. They could answer any questions the judges asked them. I am very proud.

“They were given 12 minutes to present and then six minutes for questions and they got a lot of questions.

“Aaron Hall and Stephen Skeirik presented [as well]. They didn’t place but they did an excellent job. They were able to answer all the questions and they were just really poised. It was one of things that just gives you goose bumps,” she added.

Justin, whose research was entitled “Mapping the Basis for Heritable Variation in Adipocyte Size,” will receive a $1,000 scholarship to the college of his choice as prize for third-place.

“Basically my research was finding which parts of the genome correlate with the different adipocyte cell size or fat cell size, and I did it at Oak Ridge [National Laboratories] over the last semester.”

Justin was mentored by Dr. Bryn Voy from ORNL and was assisted by his research partner, FHS senior Aidan Boone.

“[We found] there are actually two regions of the genome, on chromosomes 15 and 19, that are correlated with adipocyte cell size, so the genes in that region actually control how large fat cells become,” Justin said.

“We do not know the genes, we just know the regions, so the next step is to find the genes in those regions,” he added.

Vivek, whose research was entitled “Creation of Recombi-nant Cytomegaloviruses using Bacterial Artificial Chrom-osomes,” was mentored by Dr. Tim Sparer from The University of Tennessee and partnered with FHS senior Erin Scheuer.

“Basically I studied a herpes virus and how it spreads through the body and the ultimate goal of it is to make antiviral compounds and antibiotics to stop it,” he said.

“We made a model of the virus and we are studying how it spreads in mice right now.

“We will probably get results sometime by the end of this year at least,” Vivek added.

Justin said he is not sure yet where he plans to use his $1,000 scholarship, but Vivek has already been accepted to Duke University where he plans to major in bio-medical engineering.

The symposium was open to any student who met the criteria for participation.

“Everyone had a chance to do it. You had to write a research paper and turn it in and you had to have done some research. “Through our school we got to do our mentor research at O-R-N-L and U-T,” Vivek said.

“If your research paper was good then they gave you a chance to present it,” he added.

FHS is currently finishing its first year of a partnership program with ORNL, UT and Knoxville Zoo in which Science Academy students are able to participate in research outside the classroom.

Baksa said, “This is the first time we have entered [the competition]. These guys pretty much entered at the last minute. They wrote their papers in a week.

“They said ‘UT wants some Farragut students to enter,’ and so they wrote papers in a week, turned them in, and they were all accepted,” she added.

“Next year we will have our act together. We have about 30 students now who are wanting to participate in these research projects next year. We will [continue] work with U-T and O-R-N-L, and the zoo is going to take up to three students next year.

“They will all be required to write a paper and we will submit all of them to this symposium. We plan to continue to have a very strong presence there,” she said

Baksa and the Science Academy plan to hold another presentation at FHS in which students will present their research findings to the academy, parents, friends and FHS faculty.

The presentation will begin at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 1, in FHS Media Center. The community is invited to attend.


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