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Worm Research Brings Grand Prizes

Sydney Assalita State High’s closure this spring couldn’t stop senior Sydney Assalita from finishing her Advanced Biology Elective Research class project — and excelling at two competitions.


For her investigation into the effects of different light sources on the regenerative properties of worms, Assalita took first place awards at a regional Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science conference and the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. 


At the PJAS conference on the Penn State Altoona campus, her presentation also garnered a Special Judge Award for standout research and a perfect score, and qualified her for a virtual state competition. Presented by video, her project received first place in the Life Sciences category at the symposium, then second place among eight category winners in the final round, earning her a $1,500 scholarship and the opportunity to present virtually at the national competition.  


“For both of the competitions, I was extremely surprised and excited to see my hard work over the course of this school year rewarded and recognized by different groups of people,” Assalita said. “Specifically for JSHS, winning a scholarship from my state placement that will help fund my future career goals was extremely thrilling.”


Assalita’s research in science teacher Danielle Rosensteel’s class focused on Planarians, worms that can fully regenerate after being cut. On them she tested the effects of LED light, sunlight and other kinds of illumination.


“I first encountered Planarians during a lab in Mrs. Rosensteel's Zoology Class and became fascinated by their unique regeneration properties,” she said. “My research helped establish more information about these regenerative model organisms. This can help guide current cell regeneration projects that focus on human tissue regeneration.”


She noted that regeneration research currently being done “could allow scientists down the line to create new limbs, organs, or blood within a laboratory setting.”


“This research in the future could lead to new life-saving techniques and potentially decrease the necessity for organ or blood donors currently needed for life-saving procedures,” she said.


Crediting her success to Rosensteel’s support throughout the class, Assalita hopes to begin pursuing a biomedical engineering degree next year at Penn State Schreyer Honors College. 


“I am hoping to continue this research on a larger scale in my future in hopes of participating in these scientific and technological advancements,” she said. “This opportunity to work on my research has truly fueled my interests as well as greatly prepared me for all of the challenges and great rewards I may experience as a future researcher.” 

By Chris Rosenblum