The scientific method is thriving at Dobbs Ferry High School.
Srishti Tandon, a junior, and Caroline Bayer, a senior, both took home prizes from the annual Westchester Science and Engineering Fair (WESEF), which was held March 15-17. Tandon placed second in the medicine and health category and advanced to the GENIUS Olympiad, while Bayer placed first in animal science and advanced to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Both students are participants in their school’s three-year Science Research Program.
Tandon’s project involved the study of Sjogren’s syndrome, an immune system disorder in which the body mistakenly attacks the cells that make saliva and tears, causing dry mouth and eyes. Tandon is searching for a treatment for Sjogren’s using scaffolds, which she defined as “materials we synthesize in the lab to replace damaged tissue.”
Tandon mentor’s, Dr. Stephen Rose of SUNY Albany, with whom she corresponded via Zoom, performed the lab work. The Covid-19 pandemic prevented Tandon from using the high school’s lab.
“He helped me consolidate my background information and gave me guidance to create the project,” she said.
Tandon described her excitement about placing second. “It made me feel that the work I’ve been doing the past 10 months is important and worthwhile,” she said.
Tandon will now join 14 other winners from Westchester (and about 1,200 from around the world) at the GENIUS Olympiad, to be held virtually in May and June. She hopes to pursue a career in pediatrics.
For her project, Bayer ventured into the world of the North American river otter.
“I studied how human and predator activity impacted the levels of otter activity,” she said. “They live primarily in the water, but they exit to visit latrine sites [where they relieve themselves], so it makes it the ideal location to monitor activity.”
In 2020, Bayer was accepted into the wildlife technician program at Mianus River Gorge in Bedford, where she chose otters as a topic of interest and was paired with a mentor, Sarah Walkley, a specialist in otter vocalizations. Bayer and Walkley set up motion-sensor trail cameras to monitor otters at five different locations.
“We figured out the proximity to the nearest trails or roads and I also calculated the number of human visits to each site,” she said. “Everyone was going on their [Covid] quarantine walks, so we had a lot of activity.”
The data collection lasted from March to June of 2020. Bayer then sorted through 9,000 images of otters before beginning her final paper. She estimated the entire process took her about 35 hours. Her primary takeaway? Otters are more active when they are farther away from human activity.
“In the future I’d like to do more research focused on the environment,” she said.
Bayer experienced the same thrill as Tandon when she was awarded first place. “Everyone was really supportive and happy for all the winners,” she recalled. ISEF will be held virtually next month.
Erica Curran, the director of the DFHS Science Research Program, praised Tandon and Bayer for their commitment.
“WESEF is intensely competitive, and Caroline has worked diligently and consistently. This project has been her passion since sophomore year and I am so proud of everything she's accomplished,” Curran said. “Srishti has also worked incredibly hard over this past year. Her dedication and attention to detail is clear in all of her work. I know she is planning on continuing her research over this next summer and I cannot wait to see what she discovers.”
Curran also noted the overall dedication of science students.
“Both Srishti and Caroline are continuing to work hard to refine their presentations as they prepare to compete on this world stage. However, in my book, both of these students, along with all of their fellow student researchers, are already winners,” she said. “Research, at any level, is a challenging and sometimes disheartening experience. The students who choose this route show that they are not afraid to try something challenging, even if it means they might risk failure. I call that courage.”