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Students going to an international science fair are tackling real-life issues

Benjamin Franklin … Thomas Alva Edison … Marie Curie … Leonardo DaVinci. Their scientific minds brought worthy inventions and discoveries like bifocal glasses, the phonograph and the electric light, the theory of radioactivity and the anatomy of the human body.

Add Carl Sagan to the list — space exploration and a hypothesis that there's water on Jupiter's moon Europa. That hypothesis would later be confirmed by a spacecraft called Galileo.

They are the scientists of old and inspiration, perhaps, for a new crop of young thinkers and inventors of the future who have worked hard these past months putting ideas into projects that could hold up in competition.

In early February, 175 students from Pasco schools brought their backboards and their inventions to the Pasco Regional Science and Engineering Fair at Weightman Middle School. Out of those, 26 were named winners, earning ribbons, certificates and plaques and the opportunity to move on to competition today at the State Science and Engineering Fair that runs through Friday in Orlando. Two of those students, Sophia Sokolowski, a junior at Academy at the Lakes, and Aubrey Jones, a junior from J.W. Mitchell High, were also selected to move on to compete with like minds from around the world and meet a few Nobel laureates at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair to be held May 9-13 in Los Angeles.

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"I've always had an interest in science," said Sophia Sokolowski, 16. "This is such a great opportunity."

Her project "Audio Perception: Plotting the Pathway of the BK Channel," earned her a first-place win in biochemistry and entailed cellular studies and how the interaction of two proteins relates to hearing loss. Sophia also won the Future Female Scientist Award and the Outstanding Achievement for Ability and Creativity in In Vitro Biology Award.

Her research, done in a lab at the University of South Florida where Sophia spends time as a high school intern, could eventually help soldiers who are coming back from the Middle East suffering from hearing loss and perhaps aid some of her peers, who are at risk with their use of MP3 players.

"It's happening already," said Sophia, noting that she keeps the volume at a minimum on her own MP3 player. "I can hear some of my friends blasting their music, and when we trade earbuds so they can hear a song I like, they tell me they can't hear it."

While a career in science could be in her future, there are other options to look at for Sophia, a violin player and soprano who happens to be the youngest member of the Opera Tampa Chorus.

"I could possibly be a pediatrician, possibly go into law or music," she said. "We'll see."

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Entering the science fair is a requirement for students in Ed Braddy's science classes, but that's not a problem at all for Aubrey Jones, 16, who is the sixth student from Mitchell High to go to international competition.

"He has really high standards," Aubrey said. "So we really have no choice but to do well."

Inspiration for Aubrey came from her family's medical history for her project, "Why Diabetics Need to Know the Complexity of Carbohydrates."

"My dad's a diabetic and I've been around him when his blood sugar has gotten so low, so I've always been into it," she said.

Aubrey used the colorimetric method to measure carbohydrates in cauliflower and potatoes and their effects on blood glucose levels. Cauliflower, it turns out, has more glucose than potatoes — a good fact to know for diabetics like Aubrey's dad, Mike Jones, who might be trying to control their disease with a proper diet.

Aubrey, who also runs cross country and track for Mitchell, moved to Pasco with her family from Maryland during her freshman year. She has made friends here, but hopes to return to her home state after she graduates to study medicine — possibly obstetrics — at Johns Hopkins University.

"I wasn't expecting to win," Aubrey said. "I'm seriously in shock."

Students going to an international science fair are tackling real-life issues 03/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 7:02pm]

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