Two researchers have made discoveries that are intriguing to respected scientists—a noteworthy feat, considering that the researchers in question are still in high school.
Amber Hohl, 17, has possibly discovered a new genus of micro-organisms, while Tiffany Clark, 18, has found indirect evidence that microbes produce methane in the Powder River Basin coal beds in Wyoming.
Both findings came about through projects for local science fairs and, ultimately, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair to be held in Detroit next month.
Ms. Hohl, a junior at Central Lee High School in Donnellson, Iowa, collected lichen samples from oak trees near the James River Power Plant, which burns coal, in Springfield, Mo., to study the effect of pollution on lichens and mosses. She wanted to see whether tardigrades, a microscopic organism, could “tell us something about our environment that we need to change before it is too late—like the canary in the mineshaft.”
So Ms. Hohl sent the tardigrades to William R. Miller, an assistant professor of biology at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, for further identification. He believes the micro-organisms belong to a new genus, and will help her present the findings to the scientific community.
Meanwhile, Ms. Clark, a senior at Campbell County High School in Gillette, Wyo., put samples of sterilized and unsterilized coal in coffee cans and found indirect evidence that microbes produce methane, a main component of natural gas. Most coal is buried too deep to make it economically feasible to mine, but if microbes produce methane, the beds could be turned into reservoirs, with the methane extracted through a pipe, her science teacher, Brent Daly, explained.
County commissioners have asked Ms. Clark to submit a proposal to fund further study.
About her new status as an esteemed researcher, Ms. Hohl said, “I still can’t believe it.”
A version of this article appeared in the April 19, 2000 edition of Education Week