Maine BioGENEius winner shares her experience at the International Finals

This post was written by Melissa Tian, a high school student from Bangor, who won our very first BioME Student Showcase on April 2019. As the winner, Melissa got to represent Maine in the international finals of The BioGENEius Challenge during BIO International Convention in Philadelphia. Below she describes her experience and research project.

Melissa Tian:

Hello, my name is Melissa, and I am a going to be senior at Bangor High School this fall. As a member of the STEM Academy at BHS, I have been conducting research since my freshman year, and have developed a strong passion for biology and how climate change affects different ecosystems and organisms. More specifically, I have fostered a fascination for mycorrhizae (which are fungi that form symbiotic relationships with plants by extending root surface area and increasing accessibility to crucial nutrients and water in exchange for carbon from the host plant) and how they interact with plants in different environmental conditions.

This past year my research focused on discovering how acid rain affects the percentage of mycorrhizal colonization and what nutrients in the soil have the greatest impact on percentage of colonization. After working with the University of Maine in Orono under the Bear Brook Watershed Project with over 90 hours spent in the labs recording data, I was so excited to see significant results in the data. From this research I was able to conclude that acid rain was indeed harmful to mycorrhizal colonization with a significantly lower level of colonization as a result of treatment. Soil analysis also revealed that mycorrhizal colonization had a negative correlation with phosphorus and a positive correlation with pH.

I was ecstatic to share my findings and compete in various science competitions. Winning first place at the local BioGENEius challenge in Portland was so exciting and something that I never expected to achieve. However, representing the state of Maine and being one of the 15 high school researchers competing at the International BioGENEius Challenge in Philadelphia, was truly an amazing life changing experience and an opportunity that I will never forget. Not only did I have the opportunity to meet 14 of the smartest high school students in the country who are just as passionate and nerdy about research as I am, but I was also able to build long lasting friendships that I hope to keep through the future.

As the 15 finalists of the BioGENEius challenge we also had the opportunity to attend the largest biotech conference in the world, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) International Convention. With over 17,000 people from over 70 different countries attending this conference, we were the only attendees under the age of 21. Surrounded by different biotech companies, businesses, and research organizations we were able to see both the innovation and business perspective of biotech research. I had never stood in a building with so many innovative intellectuals and ground breaking researchers before. From developing new drug therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, to finding cures for cancer, to engineering innovative medical equipment and environmental solutions, I was able to see and experience the true impact and value of scientific research and understand at a much deeper and more personal level why I do what I do. To see my research impact humanity and change the community for the better is why I want to spent hours in a lab bent over a microscope and why I want to spend days in mosquito swarmed woods sampling. Seeing the positive impact of my work is what makes me love what I do, and my experience at the BIO international Convention gave me a glimpse of what I want to see in my future, the many possibilities of how I can impact my community, and most importantly the immense value of scientific research.

Thank you to the Bioscience Association of Maine and the BioGENEius Organization for giving me the opportunity of competing in the international competition and for giving me a life changing and impactful experience that I will forever remember.