During the week of May 2-5, the National Junior Science, Engineering & Humanities (JSHS) Symposium was held in Baltimore, Maryland. Each year, two students are selected from each state to compete at this event. For Missouri, both students were selected from Camdenton High School. In each of the eight contest categories, one student is selected as the best research project for the entire US. For the first time in decades, that student was from Missouri.

During the week of May 2-5, the National Junior Science, Engineering & Humanities (JSHS) Symposium was held in Baltimore, Maryland. Each year, two students are selected from each state to compete at this event.  For Missouri, both students were selected from Camdenton High School. In each of the eight contest categories, one student is selected as the best research project for the entire US. For the first time in decades, that student was from Missouri.  

Grace Hall, a senior at Camdenton High School, has been conducting research since sophomore year, studying an invasive plant Sericea Lespedeza. Her research determined that the plant, which effects both agriculture and nature reserves including state parks like Lake of the Ozarks and Ha Ha Tonka State Parks, gets help from soil microbes.

These soil microbes produce an enzyme that suppress other plants including crop species and native plants. Hall developed a chemical inhibitor of this enzyme and found that it specifically targets these enzymes and prevents this noxious weed from taking over.  This finding could potentially reduce the need to use harmful herbicides when controlling weeds by creating a whole new class of environmentally benign herbicides.

Hall initially had no idea whether or not her work would have any significant outcome. The enzyme she identified for suppression happened to be selected based on the equipment she had present. Hall was able to support the fact that this was working with maize and continued to use the application accordingly moving forward.

Hall’s research was chosen in the environmental science category as the best research project. She was additionally awarded a $12,000 education scholarship to use at a university of her choice. Hall plans on attending Missouri State after graduating high school and majoring in biology. She hopes to experiment with the current research on a greater scale. This could include larger sample sizes or attempting to use it over different seasons.

The other student to be invited to the symposium was Camdenton High School senior Olivia Kline, who has been working on research involving bumblebee population decline. Her research involved studying the microsporidian Nosema bombi, that is associated with the decline in health and fitness found in wild bumblebees. She says that currently, not much is known about this parasite.

To effectively study this, Kline created a bumblebee cell line culture to work with. In order to do this, Kline reached out to various scientists in the area for advice and was eventually allowed weekly access to a lab in Columbia. She would make the trip every Friday to the lab and use her school time to further this research. This work has gone on to be nationally recognized multiple times. Kline also hopes to continue her work into college.

Christopher Reeves, the science teacher for both Kline and Hall throughout high school, says that both students have showcased an incredible amount of effort towards this research. He also applauded the high school’s efforts to allow both of them leniency in scheduling in order to complete their goals.

“I’m so impressed with the work they have completed,” Reeves said. “Being recognized at a national level is incredible.”

Kline says that neither of them started this research sophomore year with the goal of reaching the national symposium. The fact that they were both able to represent Camdenton and go to the event at all was a welcome surprise. Hall says that, although winning is fun and rewarding, being able to accomplish the research goals and complete well-done science is the main focus to every hour in the lab.

“Through all of the work, we hope to accomplish something,” Hall said. “My mom works for the department of natural resources, so I’ve always been able to pull inspiration from that.”

Hall says she still can’t believe that she was chosen for the award. In fact, she says that when her name was announced, she believed they had called the wrong name.

“She looked so shocked,” Kline said. “I’ve been to the symposium two previous years and I know the level of research that wins this award. We expected that if either of us was going to win, it would be third place.”

After accepting the award and bringing it home, Hall says that it’s a feeling that’s hard to describe. She says that the line of research she has dedicated the last few years to is too important to ever lose sight of that goal. However, she says it was great having her work validated at the professional level.

“It makes all of the hours that you put in that don’t feel very fun at all seem worth it,” Hall said. “It makes you want to get into it even deeper at a professional level and see what kind of changes you can make.”