SPRING HILL — When the Florida State Science and Engineering Fair official announced the first-place winner in junior division zoology, it was a seventh-grader from Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics who walked across the stage.
Nate Toler, 13, has been a Challenger student since first grade, and his mother, Denise Toler, attributes his accomplishment "to his own love of science, his parents' support and the encouragement and expertise of some of the best teachers in the world."
Nate has enjoyed marine biology since he was 2 and watching the Disney movie Finding Nemo, his mother said. He likes to study tropical freshwater and saltwater reef species and maintains his own freshwater and saltwater aquariums.
He is the school's Marine Club captain and helps run the marine lab. That interest tied in nicely with his project, "The Algae Advantage," where he infused spirulina (blue-green algae) into the diet of platys (tropical, freshwater live-bearing fish) to see if it would improve their weight-gain percentages, growth rates and feed conversion ratio. It did.
This was the second time Nate has qualified for the state competition. Last year, he won an award for excellence and a monetary award, although he did not place. He has won first-place honors in the district-level competitions "every year since he was eligible to compete in third grade," his mother said.
Nate, the son of Denise and Bill Toler, hopes to pursue a career in marine biology.