Lord Botetourt High School students (from left) Brooklyn Shelton, Luke Wallace and Yasmin Sykes work on their student project forum projects at the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School.
Photo by Aila Boyd

Students from Lord Botetourt High School, who also attend the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School, competed in this year’s Student Project Forum over the weekend.

The forum, which is essentially a science fair, allows students at the governor’s school to choose a topic of interest to explore in great detail. Students start their projects in August and are given the entire month of January, during what is called “Intersession,” to wrap up their research.

“It’s a very unique experience because most students are used to having to cram it in after school, but here, they’re able to do it much more intensely,” Melissa Fisher, a math teacher at the school, said. “They get some rather fruitful results.”

Fisher, a graduate of Lord Botetourt High School, explained that the forum allows the students the unique opportunity to collaborate with other members of the school, as well as experts from across different disciplines in the community.

Teacher involvement in the projects varies. Freshmen typically receive more assistance than upperclassmen.

Yasmin Sykes analyzed proteins found in Theobroma cacao.
Photo by Aila Boyd

This year, students collaborated with professors from Virginia Tech and Hollins University and professionals at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.

The forum consists of 20 different categories.

Fisher estimated that roughly 1,000 people attended the forum.

One of the most beneficial aspects of the forum, Fisher explained, is the feedback that students received from the judges.

Lord Botetourt High School seniors Yasmin Sykes, Luke Wallace, and Brooklyn Shelton explained how they decided what they wanted to focus their research on for their final year at the school.

Sykes decided to do an analysis of proteins found in Theobroma cacao, which is the scientific name of chocolate. Sykes said that because she loves chocolate, her decision to focus her research on it was a no-brainer. Her personal favorite is dark chocolate.

“I’ve been looking at these proteins in the Arabidopsis plant, which is a model organism, and comparing them to proteins in the chocolate plant to find out disease response,” Sykes explained.

Looking forward, Sykes plans to study mathematics and photography in college. Her dream school is the University of Richmond.

Luke Wallace decided to center his research on lead water filters.

He explained that he had dual motivations for choosing what he did. The first came from an observation of last year’s winners. He said that after carefully analyzing the projects that received the highest praise from judges, he knew that he wanted to do something with water for his final project.

“Last year, I saw endless water projects getting recognition from colleges,” he said. “You’ve got to know how to play the game.”

Luke Wallace researched the use of lead filters.
Photo by Aila Boyd

The second reason for his decision to pursue water-based research was because he works with the team of researchers at Virginia Tech that discovered that there were unhealthy amounts of lead in the water in Flint, Mich. Because of that, he was even able to use the same machine for his project that the researchers at Virginia Tech used for their discovery.

Wallace’s post graduation plans include medical school.

Brooklyn Shelton decided to evaluate the quality of the James River for zebrafish. As part of her research, she collected water from the river, created a lithium chloride solution, and a fertilizer solution.

She explained that going into the project, she knew that lithium chloride has an impact on zebrafish growth development. With that knowledge, she used lithium chloride as an indicator for the quality of the James River.

“I exposed the zebrafish to each solution and let them incubate in it,” Shelton said.

To document her findings, she took pictures of the fish and measured the diameter of the embryos.

Shelton combined all of the data she collected in Excel spreadsheets in order to more easily analyze the results.

“I’ve found that lithium chloride was the only one that was significantly different. The James is fine for the development of zebrafish, which is good because there’s a ton of fish that live there,” she said.

Shelton’s post graduation plans include majoring in science and minoring in business at New York University. She said that she sees herself eventually enrolling in medical school as well.

All three students said that they’ve very much enjoyed their time at the school.

Brooklyn Shelton decided to utilize the close proximity of the James River, using it as part of her research. Submitted Photo

“It’s just been amazing for me to be able to go to school in an environment where the kids really want to learn and are really passionate,” Sykes said.

She added that the teachers at the school go out of their way to make learning as fun as possible.

Wallace echoed her sentiments, noting that the school is “challenging.” He said that he hopes that the time he has spent there will help ensure that his upcoming transition to college will go as smoothly as possible.

Shelton, who also plays sports, said that balancing her challenging course work with her obligations to the team has helped her develop her time management skills.

Other Botetourt County students competed in the forum as well.

Lord Botetourt High School juniors: Holly Acker, Martha Keely, Emily Overbay, Ryan Rigatti, and Alysia Sanchez-Huerta

Lord Botetourt High School sophomores: Chloe Beasley, Ethan Fouch, Parker Hudson, Evan Jennings, Lynn Park, Leah Germain, Kierstyn Stanley, and Annelise Wolfe

Lord Botetourt High School freshmen: Ryan Cooper, Katherine Cross, Claire Dozier, Anna Frittman, Taylor Gunte, Andres Hernandez, James Voight, and Sydney Vokus

Two James River High School students, junior Ashlee Woldman and sophomore Shannon Filler, also competed in the forum.

Pictured are the winners of the Student Project Forum.
Submitted Photo

Winners from Botetourt County Public Schools are as follows:

James River High School:

  • Shannon Filer was awarded 3rd place in the Systems Software A category for “A Program to Aid in the Assessment of Water Quality.”
  • James Voight was awarded 3rd place in the Plant Sciences A category for “The Allelopathic Effect of Juglone on the Germination of P. vulgaris.”


 Lord Botetourt High School:

  • Leah Germain was awarded 3rd place in the Systems Software A category for “A Program to Aid in the Assessment of Water Quality.”
  • Andres Hernandez was awarded 3rd place in the Plant Sciences A category for “The Allelopathic Effect of Juglone on the Germination of P. vulgaris.”
  • Mattie Rose Keely was awarded 1st place in the Animal Sciences B category for “The Effect of Calcium as an Inhibitor of Lead using Danio rerio.”
  • Lynn Park was awarded 3rd place in the Plant Sciences A category for “The Effect of Martian Soil on the Growth of Spinacia oleracea.”
  • Ryan Rigatti was awarded 1st place in the Materials Science category for “The Effect of Nanomaterial Addition on the Physical Properties of Kudzu Bioplastic.”
  • Alysia Sanchez-Huerta was awarded 2nd place in the Animal Sciences B category for “The Effect of Vaping on the Muscle Movement of C. elegans.”
  • Kierstyn Stanley was awarded 3rd place in the Plant Sciences C category for “The Effect of Acid Rain on the Growth of Raphanus sativus and Spinacia oleracea Crops.”
  • Luke Wallace was awarded 2nd place in the Environmental Engineering category for “The Ability of Activated Carbon, Biochar, Spirulina Powder, Chlorella, and Diatomaceous Earth to Remove Lead from Polluted Water in a Cost-Effective Manner.”

First-place award winners will advance to the Western Virginia Regional Science and Engineering Fair at Roanoke College on March 16.

The Roanoke Valley Governor’s School, which focuses on math, science and technology, services 13 different high schools across seven counties.