Finding Microbes at a Science Fair

Last week, together with four other USM Coastal Sciences graduate students, I had the  opportunity to participate as a judge in the annual Ocean Springs High School science fair. The topics for the projects that these 9th and 10th grade honors biology students chose   spanned biology, chemistry, human health, math and physics, among others. Upon arrival, we were instructed to walk around and score the assortment of tri-fold poster boards that displayed these science projects based on specific requirements such as their format, clarity, and creativity. Although the students were not with their projects, we had the option of calling students out of class to conduct interviews with them, which a few of us did as we came across projects that showed noticeable effort. Our evaluations would be important to these aspiring scientists, as exceptionally well-done projects would proceed to the regional competition at Mississippi State University in February.

The category that immediately grabbed my attention was microbiology. I am a new master’s student in the Hamdan Lab at USM, and have been fascinated by microorganisms since middle school, when I did my own science fair project on the effects of antimicrobial socks. Seeing the turnout for this category was exciting for me, particularly because all of the microbial focused projects fell in the general category of yeast breads. I knew then that I was highly qualified as a judge, as I took a 4-H yeast breads project to the Ohio State Fair during high school in 2010, and competed to win first place in the state. My joint knowledge of microbiology and yeast breads helped me to score and place students in this category. As a result of the judges’ scores, Ms. Tyler Castleman’s project titled, “The Effect of Yeast Starters on Their CO2 Output” took first place and will advance to regionals. I was thoroughly impressed with how this aspiring 10th grader designed her project, documented her results, and communicated her findings with pictures, tables, and graphs. We shared with her a handful of tips learned from our own experiences presenting data, to support her future success; one such suggestion included teaming up with second place winner, Ms. Anna Horton, to compete as a strong team at regionals together.

Ms. Tyler Castleman’s project, 1st place (left) and Ms. Anna Horton’s project, 2nd place (right).

Outreach opportunities are a privilege, and I have discovered that I also enjoy teaming up with other scientists to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in our local community. Some of the people that volunteered as judges at this event included research scientists, an engineer, and even a meteorologist! As a woman in science, I take pride in encouraging other young women to participate in science, and to work together. It is important to communicate to these young girls that their intelligence and new perspectives are needed in science, and that they are capable of pursuing a scientific career, as I have. Accordingly, I will be on the lookout for similar outreach opportunities in the near future, so stay tuned!

Rachel M


From left to right: Lennah Shakeri, master’s student; Rachel Mugge, master’s student; Apryle Panyi, PhD student; Division of Coastal Sciences, USM School of Ocean Science and Technology.