Agri Leader

FDACS recognizes students for innovative science projects

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) has recognized four outstanding high school students for their innovative work in agriculture-related science projects.

The students were presented with awards at the 59th State Science and Engineering Fair in Lakeland in early April.

More than 400 judges selected the winners from a total of 904 projects entered into the first-of-its-kind competition initiated, sponsored and funded by FDACS. The officially entered projects were selected from more than 11,000 exhibits across the state.

The competition was coordinated in partnership with the Florida Foundation for Future Scientists.

“As our population continues to increase, Florida farmers face an increased demand for food production and an increased responsibility for maintaining a sustainable water supply and overcoming the threats of invasive pests,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam H. Putnam. “The challenges are great, but I believe wholeheartedly in our ability to meet these challenges through the future scientists and engineers who continue the tradition of scientific research, application and innovation.”

The innovation-in-science awards to students further that critical mission, he said.

State Sen. Alan Hays championed the funding of the state science fair in the Legislature, Putnam said.

“I am proud and honored to support the future scientists and engineers who were represented at this week’s State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida,” Hays said. “Their innovative

ideas will one day be vital to our state.”

Two winners were named for projects that supported principles or technical innovations that address a specific need of Florida agriculture and offer the greatest potential or scientific potential for increasing production or efficiency.

The winners were Evan C. MacKay of Vero Beach High School and Shreya K. Reddy of Lincoln Park Academy in Ft. Pierce.

MacKay’s project developed an alternative method for control of the Diaprepes abbreviatus insect (root weevil) that threatens the state’s citrus, sugar cane and biofuel production.

Reddy’s project studied RNA interference as pest management against the Asian citrus psyllid that causes the devastating citrus greening disease.

The other category of awards was for the most challenging, original, thorough, innovative and/or creative investigation of a problem involving agriculture.

The winners were Nirva Vassa of Seminole High School in Sanford and Anna F. Wilgenbusch of Trinity Catholic School in Tallahassee.

Vassa’s project investigated a new method for reducing the degradation of vitamin C content in fresh orange juice while maintaining its quality.

Wilgenbusch’s project studied the levels of lead in backyard-produced chicken eggs.

MacKay and Vassa received $500 each. Reddy and Wilgenbusch received $300 each.

All four received trophies and certificates.

MacKay, a junior at Vero Beach High School, said he wanted to thank the many people who assisted him with his project.

“This was nothing I could have done on my own,” said MacKay, who has participated in science fairs since kindergarten. “And I want to stress that and thank all the people who helped me. It was the culmination of the work of many people, including all of my science teachers and the Education Foundation that helped put on the State Science Fair to the USDA Laboratory in Ft. Pierce where I did my research project.”

MacKay said he had no expectation of being an award winner. “I just love science and the fact that science is on the cutting edge of what’s going on,” he said. “But getting recognized in this way is something I’m really thankful for.”

He will now represent Florida at the International Science Fair in Los Angeles May 11-16.

Vassa, a sophomore at Seminole High School, said she worked alone at home on her project.

“I definitely feel proud,” she said. “And the award also supports the idea that scientific research is very important to our society. And the recognition I got helps me further my research work.”

Nancy Besley, executive director of the Florida Foundation for Future Scientists and head of the State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida, praised FDACS for creating and sponsoring the new awards.

“These awards are particularly significant because they are specific to agriculture, which is really important to our state,” Besley said. “And these projects touch on some of the areas of science that are most important to agriculture, such as pest control and nutrition.”

She said she hopes the awards will be continued as an annual competition.