Kyle La Spisa, a William Floyd High School senior, received first place in the environmental sciences division at the Long Island Junior Science & Humanities Symposium (JSHS) 2020 Regional Finals held this past weekend at York College in Queens, NY. Kyle’s research, “Utilizing Synchrotron Technology to Determine Potential Heavy Metal Distribution Among Biological Indicators in an Estuarial Environment,” focuses on testing sediment and spiders around the Forge River for contaminants. As a regional winner, Kyle has been invited to present at the last round of the competition on Saturday, Feb. 29, also at York College.
La Spisa has been working on this project with his research partner, fellow senior Michael Borrayo, under the guidance of William Floyd High School research teacher, Victoria Hernandez. Kyle and Michael, who have spent a large portion of their high school science research careers studying the Forge River estuary, collected the sediment and spider samples from different locations along the Forge River. They also collected samples outside of the Forge River watershed as a comparison.
“Kyle started by collecting data using DNA barcoding through Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's DNA Learning Center, whom he continues to collaborate with,” Hernandez said. “Then he continued to collect more spiders and perform tests on their fangs, while Michael collected sediment from corresponding regions, to see what heavy metals were present in both sample types at Brookhaven National Laboratory's National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS II) through the SPARK Program.”
Through the William Floyd High School science research program, students like Kyle and Michael have opportunities to visit some of the world’s top research laboratories, such as Cold Spring Harbor National Laboratory DNA Learning Center and Brookhaven National Laboratory, the latter of which being where they examined their samples using some of the world’s top equipment such as the SRX (Submicron Resolution X-ray Spectroscopy) Beamline at the NSLS II.
Results revealed that heavy metal concentrations such as arsenic, selenium, titanium, copper, manganese and nickel were present in both sediment and spiders along the Forge River. The student researchers also found naturally occurring coppers – cupric oxide and cuprous oxide; along with titanium dioxide, a chemical compound found in sunscreen, which is often occurring due to duck farm run-off and from marine vessels.
“When we analyzed the data, the elemental ratios to iron in sediments and spiders was magnified, which is a potential environmental concern,” La Spisa said. “The research reveals that pollutants are getting into the ecosystem, and once they are in, they are difficult to get out.”
La Spisa added that there are certain bioengineered plants that are designed to remove contaminants from the soil. Both Kyle and Michael, with the assistance of Mrs. Hernandez, plan to submit their research to peer-reviewed journals for publication consideration. Good luck to Kyle as he prepares to present at the JSHS 2020 Finals!