November 29, 2011

14-Year-Old Conducts Experiment With Cornell Faculty

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Lauren Hodge, a 14-year-old high school junior from Pennsylvania, conducted an experiment with Cornell’s Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering’s Soil and Water Lab earlier in the month. Her experiment sought to determine if pumpkin material can remove heavy metal from wastewater, she said.

Equipped with her vials of home-prepared dried pumpkin material, Hodge spent three days, Nov. 7 to Nov. 11, working with Prof. Todd Walter, biological and environmental engineering, and Kyle Delwiche grad on the experiment.

In the lab, Hodge sieved the dried pumpkin material, dosed it with heavy metals and observed the effects.

Chemical complications arose, however, that the young scientist said she did not expect.

When Hodge collected the results, she said, she was left with further questions.

“They weren’t exactly what I had anticipated, but I am looking into returning to Cornell, [changing] the procedure and perhaps [obtaining] some clearer results,” Hodge stated in an email.

Delwiche said that inconclusive data could positively affect Hodge’s learning process.

“To some extent, I felt bad, because she came all the way up here and none of the data made sense. But to some extent, maybe that’s a valuable interaction with science, and in some way, you might learn more from things going wrong the first time,” Delwiche said.

To obtain clearer data, Hodge said she is planning to return to Cornell to conduct another experiment.

“I am hoping to return, not only to tweak the procedure, but also to get a sweatshirt … I never got a Cornell sweatshirt!” Hodge said.

Inspired by a Brazilian study she heard on the radio that used banana peels to extricate heavy metals from waste water, Hodge contacted multiple universities in the Northeast to initiate her high school science fair project, she said. Prof. Walter was among the few that responded to her request.

“I think [Hodge] loved it up here. She really didn’t want to leave when she had to leave. I think she’s looking forward to coming back again to finish this experiment,” Walter said. “She came up with her mother, Brenda, and they both really seemed to like the campus, and they liked the atmosphere in our lab, so I hope we put on a positive representation for Cornell.”

Hodge was one of the top winners at Google’s first Global Science Fair, which selected three students out of the 10,000 applicants.

While at Cornell, she was filmed for a documentary about young women in science. In the past week, she was featured in WIRED magazine.

Regarding the media attention, Hodge said, “I could do without being interviewed, but if it motivates other kids, then that’s a good thing.”

Hodge expressed gratitude for Walter’s guidance on her experiment.

“For most young scientists, the most difficult aspect of conducting research is deciding on a topic. For me, the most difficult part was finding a mentor and a lab. We have a university and a college in York, Pennsylvania, but neither were able to assist with what I wanted to do,” Hodge said.

Original Author: Jinjoo Lee