What brand of chicken contains the highest level of antibiotics? Are oysters found in our local waterways safe to eat? Are there heavy metals in the soil of our area playgrounds? These are just some of the questions posed by teams of high school students who have just completed a series of research projects as part of a unique project in conjunction with Cape Fear Community College.
For the last six months, dozens of local high school high students have been working with CFCC students and faculty on a competitive research project known as the Chem-Techathon.
Funded with a $150,000 grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the purpose of the Chem-Techathon is to increase interest in the field of chemical technology among high school students through hands-on research using professional-level equipment.
The project was created by Tracy Holbrook, who is the lead instructor of CFCC’s Chemical Technology program. Holbrook said that there is a growing demand for trained chemical technicians and wanted to develop a project that will help give “future chemists” some real-world experience in the field and generate additional interest in the field.
“There’s an employment gap in chemical technology right now, so we are trying to show students that chemical science is not only fun, but you can actually get paid to do it,” Holbrook said.
He explained that based on the work he’s seen so far from the student projects, there’s definitely plenty of potential talent in the local high schools.
“I’ve been very impressed with the level of dedication shown by the students during this project,” Holbrook said.
“They’ve been using our labs, working alongside our staff and our students to learn how to ask the right questions and then use the right tools and equipment to get valid scientific results.”
Each student team was assisted by a mentor from CFCC’s Chemical Technology department and used equipment and instrumentation at the college’s labs, which includes industry-standard equipment used in professional labs around the country.
The results of all the studies will be on display on the first floor of CFCC’s Union Station Building and the public is invited to attend a special viewing reception on Friday, May 1 at 6 p.m. to see the results of the research, talk with students and vote for a winner. Students will be on campus on Saturday, May 2 to demonstrate the types of hands-on experiments used in the projects.
Holbrook emphasized that public voting is a critical component of the project because the votes will determine the winning teams. High school teams who place first, second, and third will win a prize packages (worth $2,500, $1,500 and $1000 respectively) to purchase lab supplies and equipment for their own schools.
Displays will also be available for review on Saturday, but all votes must be in Friday night to qualify.
The project is open to all eleven public high schools in Pender and New Hanover County is funded through 2017. This year, participating high schools included Ashley High School, Hoggard High School, Laney High School, Pender High School, Pender Early College High School and Wilmington Early College High School.
CFCC’s Chemical Technology program is a two-year associate degree program which prepares students to work as technicians in chemical laboratories in a variety of industries. Graduates of the program can also transfer credits to complete a four-year degree program in chemistry at several state universities.
The Burroughs Wellcome Fund is an independent private foundation dedicated to advancing the biomedical sciences by supporting research and other scientific and educational activities.