OPRF science students named Illinois BioGENEius Challenge semi-finalists

OPRF science students named Illinois BioGENEius Challenge semi-finalists

BioGENEius Challenge semi-finalist Amelie el Mahmoud's original research poster.

Four members of an Oak Park and River Forest High School science class were named semi-finalists in the Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization BioGENEius Challenge. They are: Amelie el Mahmoud, Emily Hsieh, Margaret Kennedy, and Owen Saranecki

Year after year, OPRF students consistently perform well in this high school science competition that is considered the most prestigious in the world for original research in biotechnology. This year’s cohort represented half of the total number of semi-finalists chosen from Illinois to present at the virtual event, which took place in April.

The students are enrolled in the Investigative Research Design and Innovation (IRDI) class at OPRF, taught by science teacher Allison Hennings. IRDI students spend the school year designing and implementing a unique research project to address a particular gap in published scientific research. During a typical school year, they work collaboratively with expert mentors in their fields of research throughout the process. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the students had to pivot and instead conducted meta-analysis experiments, which combine the results of multiple scientific studies.

"The IRDI students did an amazing job during this difficult year and demonstrated creativity, ingenuity, and perseverance,” Hennings said. “I am very proud of them for their collaboration, flexibility, and out-of-the box thinking!”

Here are summaries of each finalists’ research:

Amelie el Mahmoud, “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Non-pharmaceutical Interventions on Mitigating the Spread of COVID-19: A Mathematical Model Based Approach” - Amelie investigated the effectiveness of several non-pharmaceutical interventions on the mitigation and spread of COVID-19 using a novel mathematical model. She hypothesized the model could accurately identify which interventions should be in place to mitigate COVID-19 spread and ultimately determined social distancing and mask wearing to be the most impactful mitigation measures.

In the future, Amelie is looking forward to working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

Emily Hsieh, “A Comparison of Distinct Architectures of Artificial Neural Network (ANN) For Modeling Solar Radiation For Renewable Energy Data” - Emily focused on predictive models for solar radiation, which are being used as a cheaper and more reliable predictor due to the extreme costs of obtaining solar radiation data. She investigated intelligent modeling techniques that combined mathematical approaches and computer technology, and determined that hybrid and RNN architectures are more precise when predicting solar radiation.

Emily hopes to continue her research in collaboration with Solar Energies Industry Association.

Margaret Kennedy, “The Effectiveness of Cognitive-Behavioral Based Multidisciplinary Treatment (CBBMT) in Addressing Chronic Pain and Functional Impairment Caused by Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome” - Margaret focused her research on a medical condition called Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a genetic condition that affects 1 in 5,000 individuals and impacts soft tissue. She hypothesized that Cognitive-Behavioral Based Multidisciplinary Treatment would result in reduced levels of chronic pain and could provide significant improvements to quality of life for those impacted by this disorder.

Margaret, who took the IRDI course for two consecutive years, would like to continue her research in the future by collaborating with the Ehlers-Danlos Society.

Owen Saranecki, “The Effect of  2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-P-Dioxin (TCDD) on the Neurodevelopment, Birth Weight, and Birth Term of  Infants Whose Parents Were Exposed in an Effort to Bring Awareness to High Exposure Areas” - Owen designed an experiment to investigate the impact of exposure to a chemical called TCDD on children born to parents who were exposed. TCDD was used in Agent Orange, which was last sprayed in 1970, but continues to linger in contaminated soil and water. Exposure can cause both short- and long-term adverse health effects, including impacts on preterm birth and birth weight, and neurodevelopmental delays in children.

Owen is planning to major in political science and looks forward to working on laws surrounding chemicals such as TCDD. 

For more information on the Biotechnology Institute BioGENEius Challenge, click here.