Life without honey bees could sting for the United States as the agricultural economy provides 19.7 million jobs and contributes $1.055 trillion to the country’s overall economy.
Determined to find a way to prevent the number of honey producing bee colonies from continuing to decline, four students from Westminster High School devised a plan to create a probiotic in powder form to strengthen bees against insecticides that are harmful to their nervous system.
Insecticides, including a class known as neoncicotinoids, are chemical substances used to control insects by killing them or preventing them from engaging in undesirable or destructive behaviors. Students Lynntram Nguyen, Katie Nguyen, Ashley Nguyen and Lilian Doan, along with their mentor Caitlin Dunham and coach Huy Pham in the campus’ MERITS program, figured out they could use genetic engineering, gene editing and freeze-drying methods to create neonicotinoid-degrading microbiome bacteria. The students tested the probiotic on the school’s own bee colony, applying the powder over a controlled set of boxed hives.
MERITS is a specialized honors program at Westminster High School that allows students to experience a rigorous and focused curriculum that prepares them for highly technical fields of employment and encourages them to pursue higher education.
“The students within the MERITS program continue to excel in the area of STEM education,” Principal Amy Sabol said. “A culture of pride has been established within this program, and the bar has been set extremely high. Even throughout the pandemic, our MERITS students never stopped taking on challenges to push themselves academically, and as a result, they rank amongst the top in the county, state and nationally.”
The students entered their team as the Queen Bees in the 30th annual Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision competition in February and were selected as one of eight national winning teams in May.
The Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision is a science competition for K-12 students that engages the next generation in real-world problem solving with a strong emphasis on STEM. ExploraVision challenges students to envision and communicate new technology 20 years in the future through collaborative brainstorming and research of current science and technology.
Since its inception in 1992, more than 450,000 students from across the United States and Canada have participated in the competition created by the National Science Teaching Association and sponsored by Toshiba.
“The level of creativity and dedication these students have shown through their projects is truly amazing,” NTSA President Eric Pyle said. “Their imaginative ideas are shining examples of the innovation teachers of science try to foster every day in science classrooms, museums and zoos nationwide.”
In June, the students were each awarded a $5,000 savings bond and were flown to Washington, D.C. in June to showcase their winning ideas in a presentation to scientist and author Bill Nye the science guy.
The students hope their all natural, cruelty-free and sustainable idea can help prevent the population of honey bees from further declining.