“So, how did you collect the saliva samples?” I hear myself ask into the telephone. Sarah DiSalvo patiently explains a process involving chicken, Q-tips, Petri dishes, a careful hand and seven dogs. She’s already described how to dye plant leaves using food coloring and how to measure data tracking on CDs or DVDs using a laser pointer and a protractor. It’s official: She’s the coolest 14-year-old I know.
DiSalvo is one of seven Nevada high school students heading to Pittsburgh next week to compete in the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, a competition that welcomes young scientists from more than 60 countries to compete for up to $75,000 in scholarships. Last year, top honors went to a team whose research on simulated cancer cells could lead to safer, less-expensive radiation therapy. Other prizes went to a Thai trio that created eco-plastic from fish scales and to a Reno teen who developed a system for detecting small quantities of nuclear material.
For DiSalvo’s project, the Coral Academy of Science ninth-grader measured the data tracking on CDs and DVDs by directing a laser pointer at each disc and measuring the angle of its reflection. For past science fairs, she tested taste recognition of organic and inorganic strawberries and the anti-bacterial properties of canine saliva (hence the Q-tips). “If you’re just doing an easy project, it’s not that much fun,” DiSalvo says. “It’s stressful and crazy, but I also enjoy doing it.”