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Incoming Waiakea High School Freshman Maya Atwal teaches students from the Hamakua Youth Center and Ka Hale o Na Keiki Preschool how to conduct her Taro Salinity Tolerance experiment.

The Hawaii Science and Technology Museum supports research projects to give students hands-on experience in using the scientific method to develop hypotheses, conduct experiments, reach conclusions based on the data collected and present their findings to the public.

On June 20, 2017 several East Hawaii students participated in the Student Science Conference jointly hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Pacific Division and the Hawaii Science and Technology Museum (HSTM). The junior researchers shared their projects covering a wide range of important local issues with scientists attending the AAAS Pacific Division 98th Annual Meeting in Waimea, organized by the Office of Mauna Kea Management. Ina Klasner, an incoming junior at Hilo High School in the Fall, presented her research using fluorescence to help develop an effective vegetable wash to prevent Rat Lungworm Disease. Jared Goodwin, also of Hilo High, explored the levels of arsenic contamination in the Hilo soils as a result of past tsunamis, winning first place in the Physical Sciences Division in the process. Meanwhile from across town incoming Waiakea High School Freshman Maya Atwal studied the effects of salinity on Hawaiian and Micronesian taro plants due to global-warming related sea level rise, junior Anne Nakamoto modeled the impact of Rapid Ohia Death on the local ecosystem, and graduating Waiakea High senior Felix Peng researched the best bacteria pairings to biologically degrade crude oil released into the ocean through oil spills. “This was a really unique opportunity for these students” said Christian Wong, director of HSTM. “They all had the chance to share their work with professional scientists and grad students and they did really well. There are some amazing research projects here, the Hilo community should be really proud of these young researchers.”
All of the students that participated received food and prizes from the AAAS Pacific Division, HSTM, and local realtor Mary Begier, and all plan to continue their research. For some, like recently graduated Hilo High senior Moana Pinner studying the effectiveness of tumeric and ginger extract on drug resistant neuroblastoma, the hard work has paid off in the form of lucrative scholarships. After the science conference Pinner received a $3000 per year commitment toward her future studies from the Thirty Meter Telescope among numerous other awards she has received as a result of her project. Many will also go on to share their work in the community like Atwal, who recently presented her project to students in Hamakua. “These kids are our future,” says Wong. “These young scientists are going to be the ones that lead our community through the 21st century and beyond. We’re in good hands.”
The Hawaii Science and Technology Museum continues to support student research and create opportunities for these junior researchers to share their findings with the public. For more information about future science fairs and conferences please visit our Contact Us page.
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Hilo Senior Jared Goodwin and his research “Investigating Arsenic Contamination from Wailoa Pond Due to Tsunami Wave Movement”

The main purpose of this study was to determine if there was any association with the distribution of arsenic contamination in soil around Wailoa Pond by the 1960 tsunami disaster. This project was a continuation from last year’s study where the data supported the development of a new model to test for this year: the Windshield Wiper Model. The model states that preexisting soil contamination would be redistributed to the border of the inundation zone and pulled back into the bay by the force of the tsunami waves, similar to the actions of a windshield wiper. The hypothesis was “Do locations farther away from Wailoa Pond contain greater concentrations of arsenic that those near the embankments of the pond?”  To test this question, soil samples were collected from 3 areas surrounding Wailoa Pond and the 1960 inundation zone. Soil samples were collected at 3 depths from 4 sub-locations within each localized area.

The data collected partially supported the hypothesis. Soil sample sites located predominently away from Wailoa Pond had a greater average concentration of arsenic than those near the embankments. This was the case for 2 of the 3 localized areas. After further analysis from multiple trials, the Windshield Wiper Model was determined to be valid; heavy metals were moved to the edges of the inundation zone by the force of the tsunami waves. One recommendation for future experimentation would be to sample more sites around Wailoa Pond and the 1960 inundation zone as this could potentially minimize the margin of error, further validating the model.


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Graduating Senior Moana Pinner and her research “Investigating the Effectiveness of a Turmeric/Ginger Extract on Drug Resistant Neuroblastoma SKNBe2c and SHEP-1 Cancer Cells”

A ginger/turmeric combination extract was prepared to determine its affect on drug resistant neuroblastoma cancer cells. It was hypothesized that the extract would reduce cell viability of the cancer by signaling both anti-proliferation and apoptosis pathways. The turmeric and ginger were harvested, dried, extracted with methanol and prepared as a 20 mg/ml concentration. A SRB viability assay with both drug sensitive (SKNBe1) and drug resistant (SKNBe2c) cancer cells was done on a 96-well plate with triplicates of the extract, control and two chemotherapy drugs (doxorubicin & etoposide). 96-well plates were then treated with triplicates of the extract serial dilutions to determine the dose response on SKNBe2c and SHEP-1 (drug sensitive) neuroblastoma cells. The IC50 value for the SKNBe2c was 0.04507% v/v and for the SHEP-1 cells 0.04682% v/v. Brightfield microscope pictures were taken of the SKNBe2c and SHEP-1 treated cells using the dose response of the extract at 0, 24 and 48 hours. The treated cells showed morphological changes by 48 hours including loss of clumping, shape and fiber connections. A migration assay was run to compare the untreated and treated SHEP-1 cells. 20% more of the untreated cells migrated to the bottom of the transwell plate compared to the treated cells. A western blot was run with the SHEP-1 treated and untreated cells. The extract caused PARP cleavage which indicated cell apoptosis. Cyclin-D1 (a protein marker for proliferation) was not expressed in the treated cells. Confocal microscopy was conduced using the Operetta Scanning microscope with Hoechst dye and Alexa Fluor 488 on treated and untreated SKNBe2c cells. The treated cells exhibiting signs of cell death as the nucleus shrank, the nuclear membrane also shrank with variations along the edges while the endosomal vesicles  were pushed into the cell membrane indicating cell death. Overall, the turmeric/ginger extract appears to cause devastating changes on/in both SKNBe2c and SHEP-1 neuroblastoma cells leading to cell death. Additionally, the extract prevented migration of the SHEP-1 cells and expressed cleavage of PARP which is an indicator of apoptosis. Future steps include looking at each components of the extract separately and together to determine if the effects are additive or synergistic. Also, running other western blots to determine which secondary pathways are activated by the extract in the drug resistant cancer cells.


Waikaea High School graduating senior Felix Peng presents his research "Optimal pairings of locally isolated bacteria for maximum hydrocarbon bioremediation"
Waikaea High School graduating senior Felix Peng presents his research “Optimal pairings of locally isolated bacteria for maximum hydrocarbon bioremediation”

The aim of this study was to identify and quantify the effects of bioaugmentation among hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria isolated from East Hawaiʻi. Twelve hydrocarbon-resistant bacteria from the genera Serratia, Pseudomonas, Bacillus, and Citrobacter (1 unidentified) were isolated and identified from two sample sites at a local harbor previously determined to have a high variability in hydrocarbon degraders. Growth and catechol degradation capabilities of these bacteria individually and in combinations – simulating bioaugmentation – were tested in a standard marine media spiked with catechol to a 2 mM concentration, and measured 24, 48, and 96 hours post-spiking using a spectrophotometer at the 600 and 630 nm wavelengths. The data collected show that two combinations, Pseudomonas spp. + Pseudomonas putida and Serratia rubidaea + Pseudomonas putida, had the lowest average growth and highest average catechol degradation values after 96 hours, equating to high degradation-per-growth efficiencies. From these assays, it becomes apparent that bioaugmentation is a viable and effective means to increase the efficiency of oil spill bioremediation in East Hawaiʻi and eventually around the world. Further research will incorporate more combinations and types of hydrocarbons.


Hilo High junior Ina Klasner shares her research "Using Fluorescence as a Death Assay for Angiostrongylus cantonensis Nematode"
Hilo High junior Ina Klasner shares her research “Using Fluorescence as a Death Assay for Angiostrongylus cantonensis Nematode”

Rat Lungworm disease (angiostrongyliasis), caused by human infection of Behavioral & Social Angiostrongylus cantonensis, is a dilemma plagues inhabitants of tropical climates Sciences globally. The lifecycle of rat lungworm usually is limited to rats and slugs/snails, however Biochemistry humans may be incidental hosts if they ingest the larvae or slime via raw or Biomedical & Health undercooked vegetables. Once humans are infected, the larvae invade the brain and Sciences often cause serious neurologic symptoms. As rat lungworm infections become more Biomedical prevalent, there is growing incentive for developing an effective method to both treat Engineering angiostrongyliasis and develop a vegetable wash to help prevent human infections. This cellular secular experiment analyzed the effectiveness of fluorescent staining as a death assay for A. cantonensis. The cell-permeant fluorescent molecule Propidium iodide was investigated chemistry as a stain that would only penetrate the surface membrane of dead larvae, and the fluorescent molecule Hoechst was investigated as a stain that would penetrate the & surface of live and dead larvae. Images of fluorescence were collected from the Bioinformatics Operetta, a high-Content imaging system, and were then processed in Earth & Environmental analysis Software. Total fluorescence area and fluorescence intensity data was Collected Sciences by setting threshold ranges for pixels. As hypothesized, Propidium iodide only stained Embedded Systems dead larvae, and Hoechst stained live and dead larvae. Therefore, fluorescence staining death assays using Propidium iodide and Hoechst is effective, and can be used to determine the success of killing larvae with household washes.


Anne Nakamoto and her research project “Modeling the impact of Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death on carbon capture in Hawai‘i’s Ecosystem”

The purpose of this study was to model the effect that Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death has on photosynthetic processes by comparing the carbon dioxide fixation rates of leaves from healthy, diseased, and wounded ‘ōhi‘a seedlings over time.  Furthermore, the goal was to use these findings to better understand how Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death (ROD) affects Hawaii’s carbon cycle and ties into overall global climate change.  It was hypothesized that when the carbon dioxide fixation rates of leaves from healthy, diseased, and wounded ‘ōhi‘a seedlings were compared over time, the leaves from the healthy seedlings would show no change in photosynthetic rate over time, the leaves from the wounded seedlings would show a slight decrease in photosynthetic activity initially due to the wound and would then normalize as the wound heals, and the leaves from the diseased seedling would show a decrease in the rate of photosynthetic activity as the disease progresses over time.  The results showed that the leaves from the healthy ‘ōhi‘a seedlings showed no change in photosynthetic activity over time, and the leaves from the diseased seedlings showed a decrease in photosynthetic activity by two and a half weeks after inoculation; this was consistent with the hypothesis.  The wounded seedlings did not show an initial decrease in photosynthetic activity as was expected due to the wound, but were as consistent as the leaves of the healthy seedlings; this showed that any change in photosynthetic activity was due to the actual disease and not the wound.  More experimentation is needed in order to relate these findings to Hawai‘i’s carbon cycle and to overall global climate change.  However, no previous studies have investigated the effect that the ROD disease has on photosynthesis rates within ‘ōhi‘a trees; therefore, this study serves as a preliminary to gaining further understanding of how the natural chemical processes of ‘ōhi‘a trees are affected by the ROD disease.



This project was a continuation from last year’s project which tested salinity on Pula’a (Micronesian) and Pa’akai (Hawaiian) taro plants using tissue culture. This year, I tested taro in greenhouses.  The purpose of my experiment was to find a salt tolerant taro, to help the Micronesians, whose staple food is being damaged from salt water flooding.  Plants were exposed to different concentrations of saltwater solutions.  The first trial tested Hawaiian taro, Pa’akai, Mana Ulu and Lehua to find the most salt tolerant plant.  The most salt tolerant was Pa’akai.  A second trial tested Pa’akai and Pula’a in 25% saltwater with calcium.  The Pula’a grew better and the calcium helped the plants exposed to salt recover.  The third trial used 50% and 75% saltwater with fertilizer replacing calcium.  The Pula’a grew better with salt and fertilizer.  A fourth trial tested plants at 75% again to collect samples of tissue to analyze for salt content.  The data showed the Pula’a stores salt in the petiole possibly making it salt tolerant.  The fifth trial used 10% saltwater.  The Pula’a grew better with the saltwater.  The data from all trials supported the hypothesis that the Pula’a is more salt tolerant than the Pa’akai.  The data also showed that calcium and fertilizer can help plants recover, although not to the same levels as untreated plants.


Megan Nakamoto and her research about the Lycosidae Wolf Spider
Megan Nakamoto and her research about the Lycosidae Wolf Spider

The purpose of this project is to study the growth of Lycosidae Wolf Spiders found on Mauna Kea at average temperatures of 25°C and 21.6°C. The hypothesis was that these spiders would grow faster and become larger after each molt in a temperature of 25°C. For this experiment, each spider was placed into a small plastic container. They were fed three times a week, supplied with a water source and their containers would be cleaned. It was then noted if the spiders were alive or dead and if they molted. A microscope and camera was set up to take pictures of the faces of the spider molts, and also of the deceased spider’s faces. Then, using a computer measuring program, the closest distance between the two largest eyes were measured in millimeters to track growth rate. The spiders grew faster in the warmer temperature. Although there were two instances where the molt sizes at 25°C were smaller than those at 21.6°C, this species thrived in the warmer temperature, molting more often.  12.5% of the spiders at 25°C survived the 105 day experiment while 6.9% of the spiders at 21.6°C survived.


Hawaii Science and Technology Museum also previously hosted the student research project, “Opihi Spawning Cycles”, conducted in partnership with the Hamakua Youth Center in Honoka’a Hawaii to determine the spawning cycles of opihi or, cellana, a genus of snails or limpets in the family Nacellidae that is an edible delicacy in Hawaii. The students used collected specimens and took measurements to determine whether or not they were actively spawning and then collected all the data to determine what times of the month the opihi are spawning in their community. Using this information students could then make recommendations to their community leaders about appropriate harvest times to enjoy opihi in a sustainable way. Please enjoy This You Tube Video to further explain this experiment.

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Students at the Hamakua Youth Center conducting opihi research. These photos have been used with permission of the Hamakua Youth Center.