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Good Hope Students Dazzle Judges During Science Fair

Eliza Mongeau explains her experiment, “Killer Extracts,” at the Good Hope Science and Engineering Fair.
Eliza Mongeau explains her experiment, "Killer Extracts," at the Good Hope Science and Engineering Fair.

A typical high school science fair is as much about teaching students the scientific method, getting them to think the way a scientist thinks, as it is about the results.

Certainly no one expects life-changing breakthroughs.

But that doesn't mean they can't happen, and to the visitors wandering through the Good Hope School's Campus Center looking at the 147 entries, it certainly seemed the future is in good hands.

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The science fair has been a major emphasis at the Good Hope School since the 1980s, said Jane Coles, the science teacher who has coordinated the event for the last 10 years.

For the last 11 years the fair has been affiliated with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world's largest pre-college science competition, showcasing the world's most promising young scientists and inventors. Top finishers in the local event will travel to the Bay Area later this year to take part in that event.

The Good Hope Science and Engineering Fair is the only event in the territory affiliated with the Intel fair.

For the second year in a row, Eliza Mongeau, now a junior at Good Hope, took home the top prize for her study of the antibacterial properties of local plants.

Her project is a continuation of her work last year, she said, in which she extracted the potentially beneficial components of various plants indigenous to the island and tested their anti-bacterial properties.

This year she focused on the plant that showed the most promise in last year's test, the leaves of the guava, trying to isolate the anti-bacterial agent.

Working with the guidance of Michelle Peterson, an assistant professor of biology at the University of the Virgin Islands, Mongeau prepared the leaves, then put them in a centrifuge where they were spun at 13,000 revolutions a minute for 10 minutes in order to separate the solids from the liquid extract.

She then performed a disc diffusion assay (you'll have to ask her about that), which involves growing bacteria in agar and seeing if the extract inhibits its growth.

If the guava leaf proves to be an effective anti-bacterial agent, that could prove to be a real benefit.

"There's nothing natural about anti-bacterial hand sanitizers," she said, noting that germs can become resistant to it.

There's nothing really new about the idea that natural substances have medicinal properties, just ask any of the islanders who use traditional "bush medicine." The science comes in asking "How does that work?" then devising an experiment to answer the question.

Coles said the judging was close between Mongeau's project and the runner-up, senior Gabriella Canales’ work on "Plasmids for Prostate Cancer," which also has very clear, even life-and-death possibilities. Canales has been part of a summer medical training program in the states, picking up what amounts to grad-school level medical education before she even graduates from high school.

In the end, Coles said, the judging came down to Mongeau's project using local resources.

The science fair features projects in math, physical sciences, social sciences, computers and engineering, from students age 11 to 18 in grades 6 through 12, with 18 students participating.

High School winners
First Place: Eliza Mongeau, Killer Extracts II
Second Place: Gabriella Canales, Plasmids for Prostate Cancer
Third Place: Christin Ashley, Can Teaching Styles Affect Learning?
Honorable Mentions: Diana Cardenas, The Relationship Between Diabetes and Obesity; Miguel Comparativo, Bio-Diesel Innovation Using a Microwave; and Jessica Hurtault, Exploring Bacteria in Eggs.

Middle School winners
First: Bryanna Canales
Second: Duncan Coles
Third: Malika Francois
Honorable mentions: Kyle Fennesy, Leah Vidal and Ricardo Vidal

Sixth-Grade winners
First: Team of Braxton Lansiquot, Sylvana Montealegre-Hutchins and Megan Scott
Second: Team of Christopher Ashley and Jacob Borden
Third: Team of Chloe Phillips-Hayden and Shania Moore

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