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RMSST student wins Young Naturalist Award
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Lilith South (middle), Christopher Raxworthy, associate curator in the Department of Herpetology and associate dean of Science for Education and Exhibitions; and Christine Economos, senior program administrator for the Young Naturalists Awards - photo by Submitted Photo

NEW YORK - A rising senior in the Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology, Lilith South, was named as one of 12 nationwide winners of the American Museum of Natural History's Young Naturalist Award.

Twelve student scientist winners explored through the American Museum of Natural History's 18th Annual Young Naturalist Awards, a nationwide science-based research and essay competition for students in grades 7 through 12. This is the only national science competition that focuses on the natural world and encourages research in Earth science, ecology, astronomy, and biology, part of the Museum's broader aim to focus on authentic science experiences that increase students' participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The Young Naturalist Awards is a program of the National Center for Science Literacy, Education and Technology (NCSLET), part of the Museum's Department of Education. Founded in 1997, NCSLET taps the Museum's unparalleled scientific resources-a vast physical collection, cutting-edge research, and dynamic and engaging exhibitions-and makes them available to a global audience through the creation of online resources, such as the award-winning Seminars on Science and OLogy. The Young Naturalist Awards program was developed by the Museum to promote young people's active observation of the natural world and to recognize excellence in biology, ecology, Earth science, and astronomy.

"The winners of the Young Naturalist Awards demonstrate a true passion for science research and communication and are exemplars for what young people are capable of," said Dr. Rosamond Kinzler, senior director for science education and director of NCSLET. "Whether these young students studied the phytoplankton levels in a local lake in North Carolina or investigated scavengers on the Serengeti in Kenya, their essays reveal the same dedication to the practice of science as our Museum scientists demonstrate. The Museum is committed to inspiring and supporting young people like this year's winners in their quest to use the scientific process to learn more about the world around them."

The Museum will also present the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Award to the student whose investigation demonstrates close observation, thoughtful analysis, and deep appreciation of the biodiversity, ecology, and habitats found in an urban environment. The winning essay was selected from the pool of Young Naturalist Awards entrants and was evaluated according to the same criteria.

This year's winners, including students from California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, and North Carolina, were recognized today at an all-day event at the Museum, which included a behind-the-scenes tour, an awards ceremony, and a luncheon. Winners also received cash awards ranging from $500 to $2500.

The 2015 winners are:

Grade 7
Manashree Padiyath, Math and Science Academy, Woodbury, Minnesota
o Investigated whether biochar amendments could improve poor quality soil conditions under her family's evergreen tree.

Jonathan Simak, Parkland Magnet Middle School for Aerospace Technology,
Rockville, Maryland
o Researched how changes in water temperature, water acidity, and size/age differences would affect the respiratory rates of the brown bullhead catfish (Ameiurus nebulosus).

Grade 8
Ashley Anderson, Adams Middle School, Redondo Beach, California
o Found that low dissolved oxygen levels in King Harbor could be the cause of massive fish die-offs.
Kacey Mewborn, Lakeland Christian School, Lakeland, Florida
o Tested a natural oil found in the skin of mangoes to combat an invasive insect

Grade 9
Katie Sesi, Huron High School, Ann Arbor, Michigan
o Studied long-term memory and learning in goldfish using mazes
William Blanton, Tuscumbia High School, Tuscumbia, Missouri
o Discovered calcifying bacteria on speleothems found in a natural cave and on artificial surfaces

Grade 10
Katherine Handler, Amity Regional High School, Woodbridge, Connecticut
o Investigated scavenger activity on wildebeest carcasses in Kenya
Zachary Weishampel, Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Award Winner
Paul J. Hagerty High School, Oviedo, Florida
o Studied the effects of light pollution on the nesting behaviors of three sea turtle species in Florida

Grade 11
Anne Davis, Stanford University Online High School, Swan Quarter, North Carolina
o Researched how changes in nitrogen and phosphorus levels might affect phytoplankton concentration in Lake Mattamuskeet
Soon Il Higashino, Ossining High School, Ossining, New York
o Identified beneficial cutaneous bacteria on Eastern redback salamanders that inhibited Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a chytrid fungus associated with amphibian decline.

Grade 12
Beatrice Brown, John F. Kennedy High School, Bellmore, New York
o Developed a novel model for predicting hurricanes on Long Island
Lilith South, Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology, Conyers, Georgia
o Found that the bacteria Lactobacillus hammesii (which prevents mold growth on bread) provided the best protection against a deadly chytrid fungus killing amphibians

More on Lilith South's entry:
Lilith South
Age 18, Grade 12
Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology
Conyers, Georgia
Chytrid Treatments and Their Compatibility with Amphibian Tissue

Lilith South experimented with several possible treatments against the spread of the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a pathogen responsible for the decline of amphibian populations all over the world. She tested several treatments that had already shown promising results, including an anti-microbial peptide and a pro-biotic bacteria, as well as an untried novel treatment using the bacteria Lactobacillus hammesii, which prevents mold growth on sourdough bread. Because of lab restrictions, Lilith was unable to use the pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. Instead she substituted Homolaphlyctis polyrhiza (Hp), a non-pathogenic model fungus closely related to Bd. Surprisingly, she discovered that the novel treatment using Lactobacillus hammesii was most effective in controlling Homolaphlyctis polyrhiza growth.

"L. hammesii could be a very effective and safe treatment for amphibians infected with Bd. It is effective at controlling Hp growth and is compatible with amphibian cells. This treatment could be further tested by observing its effects on the pathogen, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, and on a whole amphibian organism."

Judges from the Museum's scientific, educational, and editorial staff used the following criteria to evaluate student essays: originality; demonstration of ability to gather data; thoughtfulness in analyzing and interpreting findings; and creativity and clarity in written and visual presentation. The winning entries will be published on the Museum's website at

The awards ceremony featured remarks by Dr. Dave Randle, a senior educator in the Department of Education, and Christopher Raxworthy, associate curator in the Department of Herpetology and associate dean of science for education and exhibitions. Dr. Raxworthy spoke to the 12 young winners about his own journey to become a scientist and about the parallels between their fieldwork and original research conducted at the Museum.

The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world's preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. Visit for more information.