Millis Seniors Team Up for STEM Senior Project

Issue Date: 
June, 2018
Article Body: 

Millis High School graduating seniors, Rebecca Azir and Elizabeth Lucas, are looking forward to not only the pomp and circumstance associated with graduation but also the culmination of a year-long study they have conducted titled: The Impact of Small Scale Sanitation Procedures on Overall Bathroom Bacteria Growth. This project, which ultimately became a team senior project at Millis High School, started as a final project in their AP Biology and Chemistry II classes at the end of their junior year, Spring 2017.
With STEM careers being a high need area, science teachers at Millis High School are continually looking for ways to increase the students’ exposure to real science and science processes. In both Chemistry II and AP Biology the students are asked to develop and test a hypothesis as their final project for the year. Students get 4-8 weeks to really explore a single research focus and start to develop an appreciation for the iterative nature of science and how there are no “right” answers, just data that supports conclusions.
Elizabeth and Rebecca were enrolled in both courses so they teamed up and worked on a project that could span both content areas. They were curious about whether or not a few simple sanitation measures, such as touchless paper towel dispensers and hand sanitizer dispensers in the bathrooms would improve overall sanitation in the high school bathrooms over the course of a school day. As they worked to develop their question and protocols, the two realized that in order to follow through on this project they were going to need a great deal more of time and financial resources, thus what started as an end of year project morphed into their Senior Project.
All seniors at Millis High complete a senior project and the project varies based on student interest. The projects range from service projects to performances. Elizabeth and Rebecca’s project is unique in it is one of the only team projects to have gained approval by the senior project board, as well as the first science research project. Over the course of the 13 months they have been working, they have experienced all components of scientific research including but not limited to, generating unique research ideas, designing protocols to address research questions and ideas, working with superiors and building supervisors to receive permission to conduct protocols, adjusting protocols when circumstances change, finally conducting the revised protocols and analyzing results. Ultimately, they devised a culture procedure where they swabbed bathrooms, incubated a nutrient broth so as to grow the bacteria. They then utilized the school’s spectrophotometer to assess bacterial concentration. They cultured before implementation of sanitation procedures, as well as after to ascertain if a difference existed.
One unexpected part of this experience was finding funding. As part of their project goals, these budding scientists have written (and been turned down for) about 15 grants, have solicited donations, thank you very much to Eye Works in Millis for supporting women in science, as well as conducted a fundraiser at numerous local events to fund their projects. Ultimately, they were able to raise enough money to purchase the supplies necessary to gather, culture and test bacterial concentrations in two of the ladies restrooms at the high school using the spectrophotometer, buy and install touchless paper towel dispensers, toilet seat covers and hand sanitizers. Unfortunately, they had to scale back the scope of their testing, but they were still able to conduct a modified protocol. Along the way these seniors have really expanded their definition of science to include all aspects of the research process.
If you are interested in more information feel free to contact Rebecca at [email protected] or Elizabeth Lucas at [email protected].