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North Lamar Science Team Attends ExxonMobil State Science and Engineering Fair

North Lamar High School seniors Sam Erickson and Carsen Rast
NLHS seniors Sam Erickson and Carsen Rast

It was during a teacher workshop last summer that Teresa Bussell was moved with an idea; one that would involve North Lamar High School seniors Sam Erickson and Carsen Rast.  The North Lamar biology instructor challenged the two advanced level students to devise a procedure of comparing milk proteins using a method of analysis called SDS-PAGE electrophoresis.

Sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) is a technique for separating proteins based on their ability to move within an electrical current, which is a function of the length of their polypeptide chains or of their molecular weight. This is achieved by adding SDS detergent to remove secondary and tertiary protein structures and to maintain the proteins as polypeptide chains. The SDS coats the proteins, mostly proportional to their molecular weight, and confers the same negative electrical charge across all proteins in the sample.

Erickson and Rast were to compare three varieties of milk: pasteurized, ultra-pasteurized, and fresh milk straight from the udder.  To begin they spent a couple months during the fall semester researching their project.  Once enough information was gathered, they ordered supplies necessary to help them begin their experiment.

In January 2014, the teens had the opportunity to go to the National Center of Therapeutics Manufacturing (NCTM) at Texas A&M University – College Station where Bussell had attended the teacher workshop.

“At the NCTM, we were able to conduct more trials of the experiment using their upgraded facilities,” said Rast.  “The lab coordinator, Matt Johnson, was extremely helpful to us throughout our experimentation and even gave us tips for the science fair competition.”

With minds churning from the trip to College Station’s state-of-the-arts facility, the boys returned to their high school science lab to conduct one more trial.  From there they analyzed the results and formulated a conclusion to their semester long project.

“The fresh milk did contain more protein than both heat treated varieties in case anyone is curious” said Rast.  “However, our purpose was more geared toward perfecting the procedure of comparison.”

After coming up with their conclusion and gathering their notes from the semester, the pair prepared for the school’s science fair competition by presenting their findings to teachers, parents, and peers.   Judges awarded Erickson and Rast with the first place ribbon that allowed them to advance to the East Texas Regional Science Fair at Kilgore College on February 28.  There they claimed third place in the senior division biological category.

“We also went home with the Metric System Award and the American Chemical Society Award,” added Erickson.  “Our winnings qualified us for the ExxonMobil State Science and Engineering Fair in San Antonio, which we attended from March 21 to the 23.”

Concluding Rast said, “The judges were impressed with our innovative methods of analysis, but it was not enough to claim a prize among the other top tier projects from all over the state.”

Both boys gave credit to Campbell Soup and the North Lamar school board for supporting them during their senior research project.

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