Science Focus Program students secure major honors at state science fair

From left, Science Focus Program students Skyler, Hyrum, Joey, Elin, Charlie and Ellery smile at the Nebraska Junior Academy of Sciences State Science Fair. All six Lincoln Public Schools students did well in their state events, and Skyler and Joey each won individual honors. Joey was selected to be Nebraska’s delegate to the 2025 American Junior Academy of Sciences Annual Conference. Skyler was chosen to represent Nebraska at the U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize in Colorado this summer. She will showcase her water research project to judges at the national contest.

Lincoln Public Schools students turned their scientific knowledge into state-level achievements this spring through their involvement with the Science Focus Program.
The Nebraska Junior Academy of Sciences (NJAS) honored several SFP students for their efforts at regional and state research contests. All SFP juniors and seniors presented projects in the Southeast Regional NJAS Science Fair, and six students were selected to showcase their talents at the state level.

Ellery, Charlie, Elin, Joey, Hyrum and Skyler traveled to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus for the NJAS State Science Fair. Students from six regions of Nebraska spoke with judges about topics ranging from botany to biochemistry.

Skyler’s water research project netted her an invitation to a major contest this summer. Judges selected her to be Nebraska’s representative in the United States Stockholm Junior Water Prize. The Stockholm International Water Institute founded national and international prizes in 1997.
Skyler said it was exciting to be chosen for the contest. The competition is open to all high school students in grades 9-12 who have reached the age of 15 by Aug. 1. State winners will travel to Golden, Colo., in late June to present their research about water-based science topics.

“The competition that I entered is the Stockholm Junior Water Prize,” Skyler said. “It is the most prestigious water research competition in the world for high schoolers.”
Skyler developed a research project called “The Effects of Rotenone Used in Lake Kill-Offs on Macroinvertebrate Populations in Wagon Train Lake Over Time, Lancaster County, Neb.” Rotenone is an odorless and colorless substance used as an insecticide and pesticide. Wagon Train Lake State Recreation Area is located south of Lincoln near the town of Hickman.
The Nebraska Water Environment Association is sponsoring Skyler’s trip to Colorado. The United States winner will advance to the international contest in Stockholm, Sweden.
Many previous Stockholm Junior Water Prize contestants have made significant contributions to water research. Naomi Park of Greenwich, Conn., won the international prize in 2023 for her work on the removal of carbon dioxide and oil products from the ocean. She developed a Styrofoam-based substance that acts as a sponge to absorb those items from water.
Joey was selected to represent Nebraska at the 2025 American Junior Academy of Sciences (AJAS) Annual Conference. He will travel to Boston to present his research and meet student scientists from across the country.
Joey credited his SFP background for helping him succeed at the science fair. He is planning to pursue a degree in biochemistry at the UNL College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. He would like to study emerging genetic technologies for crop science in college.

“I really love science, which is why I went to the Science Focus Program,” Joey said. “The extremely small class size of less than 90 students and the staff who are knowledgeable, kind and caring were truly integral in forming my education and friendships which helped me become the learner I am today.”
Joey spent half a year analyzing DNA of soybean plants in an experiment designed to improve plant-based meat alternatives (PBMAs) for the vegetarian food market. He then created a large number of papers, tables and charts that showcased the data he accumulated.
Joey said the inspiration for his project came from a research course he took at SFP this past year.
“A piece of advice for seniors in that class was to pursue something you are interested in,” Joey said. “I have always been interested in emerging genetic technologies such as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR). I pursued this field by heavily researching my topic for months and then acquiring a job at the UNL plant biotechnology laboratory.”
Joey said he was immediately impressed with the high-quality projects he saw at the state science fair. Students had to finish in the top six spots of their regional contests to qualify for state. Their presentations included a posterboard that illustrated key aspects of their investigations, one copy of their research paper and a research notebook that showed how they gathered their data.
“When I walked into the science fair, I saw the other projects and did not think I was going to win,” Joey said. “There were extremely good projects in that room.”
Joey said his primary goal was to have good conversations with every judge he spoke with. He soon discovered he had a lot in common with many of them. One judge worked as a chemical manufacturer for the specific protein – Legume Hemoglobin – that Joey used in his project. Another owned a doctorate in animal science and talked with him about Nebraska’s cattle industry.
“Each judge was a master of their niche field and had interesting and unique insights into my project and field as a whole,” Joey said. “That is what I enjoy most about science, the conversations. Nothing can be more interesting than discussing science with someone who is both knowledgeable and passionate. I have always left these sorts of conversations with more knowledge, and more questions, than before.”

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Published: June 21, 2024, Updated: June 21, 2024