More than 550 young researchers show off their work at State Science + Tech Fair

AMES, Iowa - High school sophomore Erin Brasser has already made a successful science fair career out of studying cranberries.

And we're not talking about research trips to the library to put together a few reports. We're talking about a 16-year-old from northwest Iowa's Paullina and South O'Brien High School using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to complete her latest hunt for health-promoting molecules in cranberry skins.

The first three years of Brasser's cranberry project looked at the antibiotic properties of the deep red fruit. Last year she tested the fruit for the presence of trans-resveratrol, a molecule associated with health and anti-aging properties by some studies. And this year was all about quantifying the molecule in cranberry skins.

Brasser wanted to know if cranberries had enough of the molecule to provide a lower-cost source of trans-resveratrol, commonly taken from the skins of red grapes.

Working with Steve Veysey, the manager of instrument services for Iowa State University's chemistry department, Brasser found that grapes contain more trans-resveratrol than cranberries.

"I was hoping it would be the other way around," Brasser said. "But I guess that's the way science is. So this experiment closed one door and opened a few more. We'll see what happens next year."

Brasser and more than 550 other sixth through 12th graders from across Iowa will show off their research during the 53rd State Science + Technology Fair of Iowa at the Iowa State Center's Hilton Coliseum and Scheman Building on March 26 and 27.

The public is invited to meet the researchers and see posters describing their projects from noon to 5 p.m. March 26 and 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 27. Admission is free.

The students will be competing for more than $70,000 in scholarships and prizes, including trips to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, May 9-14 in San Jose, Calif.

Brasser won a trip to last year's international fair where she won an honorable mention award for her cranberry studies. That was a big honor and a lot of fun, she said. But that's not the only reason she competes in science fairs.

"Doing science fairs teaches life skills like how to present in front of an audience, not to procrastinate and to get things done, and about applying the scientific method to real-life science projects," she said. "The whole point is getting out and learning new things."

That's just what Andrea Spencer, the director of the state science fair, likes to hear.

"The overall goal of the science fair is really education, especially in science and technology," she said. "We want the students to showcase their research. To have sixth through 12th graders doing fabulous research projects is really exciting news for the state of Iowa."

Iowa State is the host of the fair. Other major sponsors include the Iowa Biotechnology Association, the Iowa Department of Economic Development, the Iowa Energy Center, the Iowa Medical Society, the Iowa Space Grant Consortium, Iowa State's colleges of Engineering and Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Monsanto Co. and the Pella Rolscreen Foundation.

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