Special Edition, Trainee-Written Highlight

UA SRP outreach enables high school student to place in regional science fair

By: John Hottenstein

A local 11th grade Tucson Magnet High School (TMHS) student, Sierra Stanton, worked with the University of Arizona’s Superfund Research Program (UA SRP) on her research project for the Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering Fair (SARSEF). The annual SARSEF regional science fair takes place every March and showcases around 1,700 of the top-level research projects from students in K-12 across southern Arizona. Sierra wanted to explore if there was a link between heavy metal pollution and bacterial antibiotic resistance in the environment. Her project combined these two human health hazards and then evaluated the combined effect to measure the resulting impact.

Sierra initially developed ideas for her project in her biotechnology class at TMHS, at which time her teacher, Mrs. Wilch, reached out to Dr. Raina Maier, director of the UA SRP.  Wilch and Maier have teamed up successfully in the past to provide University research guidance to high school students with an interest in environmental microbiology. In her initial meeting with Sierra, Dr. Maier was impressed with the 11th grader’s planning, “Her depth of research as a high school student on this topic was truly extraordinary.” Dr. Maier then paired Sierra up to work with UA SRP graduate trainee, John Hottenstein. John advised Sierra in the design of bacteria culturing experiments that allowed her to test the hypothesis that bacteria from metal-contaminated soils have a higher antibiotic resistance. The results of Sierra’s work demonstrated that bacteria residing in these soils do, in fact, have a higher metal tolerance. However, a link between metal tolerance and antibiotic resistance remained inconclusive.

Sierra’s hard work was recognized when she was awarded the 3rd Place SARSEF Grand Award in her category for Earth and Environmental Sciences. Sierra’s counterpart and mentor, John Hottenstein, shared the following thoughts about working with Sierra, “It was exciting to see the enthusiasm for her ideas across her research experience, even with the occasional setback.” The entire UA SRP program is proud of Sierra’s success in this science fair competition and hope she enjoyed her first-hand experience working in a University laboratory.