OSR’s Mann ’17 Advances to Intel ISEF Finals

Photo courtesy of Mamaroneck Schools: Ali Mann ’17 pictured with a poster displaying her research. Mann recently advanced to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

For the second time in the history of Mamaroneck High School, a junior has been selected to compete in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF). Ali Mann ’17 was selected at the Westchester Science Fair to go to Phoenix, Ariz. from May 8 to 13 to compete with 1,700 other high schoolers from 75 different countries. In this competition, students showcase their research projects and compete for awards that add up to a total of $4 million.

At MHS, Original Science Research is an elective in which students learn how to research different scientific topics. Eventually, students reach out to different mentors throughout the New York City area, complete their own projects and present them at different competitions. The Intel ISEF is considered to be a highly selective competition. Mann, who is the seventh person in the OSR program to be selected for this competition was able to answer some questions about her project and her experiences.

Could you give a basic overview of your research?

I worked with my mentor, Michael Davis, at Willsboro Research Farm where I tested the effects of three cover crops for corn. I planted white clover, annual ryegrass and tillage radishes, and tested the effects they had on the number of weeds and corn yield. I also looked at the abundance of cover crops on each plot to compare it to the corn yield. I conducted this experiment because I wanted to find a more efficient and environmentally friendly way to control weeds so local farmers could make a larger profit with less damage to the surrounding ecosystem.

What made you choose this area of science for your project?

I spent summers upstate on my grandparents’ farm and realized how much science is applied to farming and agriculture. I wanted to do something that benefitted the local farmers I had met upstate. Many of the farmers were struggling to increase their crop yield and found it hard to turn a profit. Nutrients in the soil were depleting due to overuse and erosion. Planting cover crops alongside main crops allowed farmers to produce a crop and maintain soil health.

What was your experience over the summer working on it?

I had a great experience with my mentor Michael Davis on the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station in Willsboro, NY. I was invited to an open house on the research farm where I spoke briefly about my project and the OSR program and also made many connections to local farmers and agricultural scientists. One person I met was Myra Lawyer from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). She had been working on a new establishment technique for annual ryegrass and documented some of my work at the research station.

How did you feel when you advanced to the ISEF finals?

I was in shock! When they were first announcing the winners, I was wondering who else could be a junior in Plant Sciences from Mamaroneck High School. The last thing I expected was for them to call my name.

How are you preparing for them?

I have been putting in many extra hours including free periods, lunch and after school. There have been numerous deadlines, and Mr. Garbarino has been incredible, helping me meet them. The steps he told us to follow for the WESEF competition were so valuable that I am applying them to my ISEF preparation.

How has your experience overall been in OSR?

I never realized how much I could get out of an elective class. In the beginning I thought I would just be reading articles and summarizing them, but Mr. Garbarino was adamant that we find a subject we were passionate about and then a mentor to help us with our research. I was nervous when I chose my topic because it’s unusual to study agriculture in Westchester, but Mr. Garbarino was very supportive. Looking back, I see that OSR is so much more than a science class. I feel confident that the research, the writing, and the presentations have prepared me for my college career. And, it has given me the opportunity to follow my passion while helping others. I’ve met many influential people in the field and I now have a network of professionals to share my research and ideas.

By Effiana Svarre

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