Students’ Honors Biology Project Becomes Published Research

Emma Bradley ’20 and Kiran Biddinger ’20 wanted to perform a “complicated” lab experiment for the Honors Biology class they took as juniors. One year later, their findings were published in the Journal of Emerging Investigators, a monthly publication that features the work of middle school, high school, and college students.

“It was really difficult to figure out what we were going to do,” Bradley says. “We were in the lab all the time, for weeks straight.”

Their report, “Temperatures of 20°C produce increased net primary production in Chlorella sp.,” was accepted by the journal in October 2019. The work must be sponsored by a faculty member—the duo’s sponsor was Science Department Chair Julie Seplaki—and undergo an extensive editing process before it can be published.

The pair join Alaina Cherry ’20 and Allison Reilly ’20, whose paper “Longer Exposure to 2% India Ink Increases Average Number of Vacuoles in Tetrahymena pyriformis” was published in October 2019 by the journal.

In their experiment, Bradley and Biddinger found that chlorella—a kind of single-cell green algae—reached maximum efficiency around 20° Celsius (about 68° Fahrenheit). Chlorella is an autotroph, which means it can produce its own food and energy from its surroundings, including light, water, and carbon dioxide. Net primary production is the rate at which the organism photosynthesizes, minus its cellular respiration. In this process, chlorella can turn carbon dioxide into glucose.

The two began editing their assignment report to submit to the journal in the spring of 2019, with help from Seplaki and other members of the faculty, and the final report was published in February 2020. Milton science teachers place a strong emphasis on being able to communicate about scientific concepts, which is why Seplaki encouraged the class to consider pursuing journal submissions.

“You don’t realize how extensive the editing process is until you do it,” Biddinger says. “We got a lot of good feedback about the style of our writing and where we needed to explain the process in deeper detail.”

One of the implications for their experiment involves climate change, Bradley says. “The importance of finding its optimal temperature is that we found where it’s best at removing CO2 from the environment and turning it into a beneficial by-product. So we think it has potential as a sustainable food source.”

A link to the study is currently featured on
the Journal of Emerging Investigators’ homepage,
under “Latest Research.”

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

The curiosity to ask why and the courage to speak out are qualities that lead to innovation and change. The individuals featured in this issue embody these qualities. Through their questioning, leadership, and willingness to share their views, they are making a difference–in their professions and in the world.