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Stem Cells, Cows and Grape Juice

Churchill Signature Academy of Mathematics, Technology and Science

The title isn’t what counted, be it Will Goldberg’s “Cows and Rain” or Alice Magill’s “Western Blot Validation of Phosphospecific Antibodies for Use on Reverse-Phase Protein Microarrays.”

Goldberg and Magill were among the students in Churchill’s Academy of Mathematics, Technology and Science demonstrating their experimental design projects on Wednesday, June 3 in the school cafeteria.

The final result was a room filled with boards, each outlining an experiment designed by academy students. Many of the experiments were in the hypothetical realm, like Catherine Lien’s, which dealt with stem cells and Parkinson’s Disease. Others, like Goldberg’s “Cows and Rain” project, included data from several different studies of cow behavior.

Students spent 12 weeks in different “module” phases of the project, covering experimental design, statistics and computer applications.

“We’re learning how to set up an experiment properly,” said sophomore Kristina Yee, whose project outlined an expriment on acute bronchitis. “This year is more about designing than experimenting.”

“We did not see their boards until tonight, so it was a little nerve-racking,” said Ruth Checker, director of Churchill’s two Signature Program academies (the other, the Academy of the Performing Arts, just finished its first year).

Will Goldberg, Churchill junior

Project title: “Cows and Rain”

Why this project? “There’s an old wives’ tale that when cows sit, rain is expected to come,” Goldberg explained. Goldberg got into a debate about the myth’s validity with his grandparents while visiting them in Sarasota, Fla. last spring. “Prove it,” his grandfather suggested. Before the week ended, Goldberg was cow-counting by a Sarasota farm.

What happened? “I observed cows in a couple of different pastures for 10 days.”

Goldberg isn’t ready to declare the cow-tale as scientific law yet, but his studies seem to show it has some validity. “The harder it rained each day, the higher percentage of cows were sitting in the pasture,” Goldberg said. “Preliminary results indicate that so far, the myth is true.”

Kristina Yee, Churchill sophomore

Project title: “Chronic Bronchitis”

Why this project? “My dad and some people in my family have asthma,” Yee said. People with asthma are considered to be at higher risk to become infected with bronchitis.

What happened? Unlike acute bronchitis, Yee explained, “The effects of [chronic bronchitis] build up slowly and gradually.” Yee’s experiment would test the results of antibiotic treatment of chronic bronchitis. “We’d take 100 [chronic bronchitis] victims and split them 50/50, prescribing antibiotics with half of them, and a placebo for the other ones for a couple of weeks.”

Catherine Lien, Churchill sophomore

Project title: “Stem Cell Research and Parkinson’s Disease”

Why this project? “Parkinson’s is the first disease that scientists believe could actually be cured by stem cells,” Lien said.

What happened? Performing the experiment Lien outlined would require inserting stem cells in a living organism, and seeing if they can develop into brain cells. “Obviously, we don’t have the resources to do that,” Lien said. “Right now, stem cells are a really big ethical issue. … Are we allowed to do this, to take human embryos and create a clone?”

Kim Murphy, Churchill junior

Project title: “Grape juice: An Everyday Inhibitor to Breast Cancer Metastasizing”

Why this project? “In my research on breast cancer, I’d just heard different things about it,” said Murphy, who read the results of medical studies that indicate consumption of grape juice can inhibit the growth of breast cancer.

What happened? “I questioned what was it is in grape juice that will stop the cancer from spreading,” Murphy said. The experiment she outlined involves a procedure called quantum dots, which cause cancerous cells to glow in lab rats.

Murphy remains agnostic on the issue, and will wait for more conclusive studies. “Until then, just drink a lot of grape juice,” she said.

Dmitri Portnoy, Churchill sophomore

Project title: “The Most Effective Cipher”

Why this project? Portnoy read Simon Singh’s “The Code Book: The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary, to Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptography.” about methods to decrypt code and secret communications. “I think that would be an interesting thing to do,” said Portnoy.

What happened? “I took six ciphers and found which ones take the longest to decrypt [code].”

The ciphers Portnoy studied ranged from the relatively simple Cesar Cipher to the unbreakable RSA. “I did find a cipher [RSA] that was literally unbreakable,” said Portnoy, who believes RSA is the most effective of the ciphers he studied.

Robert Sorbello, Churchill junior

Project title: “Exercise Physiology: The Impact of Exercise Intensity on Obese Adolescents”

Why this project? “I just wanted to do something on exercise. … I like to exercise because I play soccer,” said Sorbello, who has played on Churchill’s varsity team since sophomore year.

What happened? Sorbello outlined an experiment that tracked the progress of obese 13-16-year-olds who underwent either a “lifestyle education” program, a moderate exercise regimen or a high-intensity exercise regimen. “After awhile, you can see an improvement in all these methods,” Sorbello said.