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  • Emma Hematian

Interview With This Year's LISEF Winners: Abigail and Ella

This past week, I had the opportunity to interview Ella Shusterman and Abigail Mottahedeh, this year's LISEF (Long Island Science & Engineering Fair) Winners. Participating amongst 1,800 students from grades nine to twelve, Abigail and Ella were tasked with writing a biochemistry paper and submitting a video explanation along with it. Here’s what they had to say about their experience:

Emma (interviewer): please explain your project.

Abigail and Ella: our project was focused on combating antibiotic resistance- what happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. This results from the misuse or overuse of antibiotics. Through our research, we discovered rhamnolipids, a type of lipid produced by bacteria that makes holes in the cell membrane; this allows antibiotics to pass through it easily. It's a biosurfactant, meaning it reduces surface tension on the cell membrane; this is what allows it to make holes. We tested this lipid on 4 different types of bacteria with 6 different antibiotics. We found that when the rhamnolipids were mixed with the antibiotics, it created a large zone of inhibition; meaning, the bacteria were unable to grow in many areas. This was more effective than simply killing the bacteria. Recent studies have even come out stating that it could potentially kill cancerous cells and be used in agriculture. We hope to use these studies to further develop our research in the future.

Emma: how much time and effort did you put into your research?

Abigail and Ella: we started in January of 2020, so it took us over a year. This was mostly due to Covid, as our research was delayed. It was definitely worth the wait, though! We conducted most of our experiments in the Cold Spring Harbor lab, spending hours upon hours there. It was a lot of fun!

Emma: describe how it felt to win.

Abby and Ella: it was epic! Our hours of research finally felt worth it! We felt so supported by our friends, relatives, and our family here at North Shore. All of this, however, could not have been done without the help of our outstanding teacher, Ms. Meredith McCarthy. She guided us throughout the entire process. We are so proud to know that our research could potentially make a difference. We encourage all students to get involved in science research- it’s the best!

**It is also important to note that Abigail and Ella’s research paper has been selected to be published in the Journal of Student Research (JSR), an academic, multidisciplinary, and faculty-reviewed journal devoted to the rapid dissemination of current research published by high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. We are so proud of them!

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