Two high schools students from the New York metropolitan area have had the opportunity to work under the auspices of Dr. Russell Burke, chair of the Biology Department at Hofstra University. These students – one from Long Island and the other from Northern New Jersey – have received high accolades for important research they are conducting.
Hannah Stewart (pictured above with Dr. Burke), a student at Plainview Old Bethpage JFK High School, received a third place award for research with Dr. Burke, titled “Host Preference of Wild Northern and Southern Ixodes Scapularis,” at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles on May 16, 2014. Her work was in the category of Behavioral and Social Sciences. Hannah additionally tied for first place in the Behavioral and Social Sciences Division of the 2014 Long Island Science & Engineering Fair (LISEF).
This NSF-funded research with Dr. Burke involves a laboratory study of the black-legged tick and the spread of Lyme Disease. Burke’s lab has been exploring the ecology of Lyme disease since 2007, focusing on the role that lizards play in reducing the prevalence of the disease. Hannah’s summer 2013 work explored the leading hypothesis that attempts to explain why human cases of Lyme disease are so much more common in the northern US than in the south, although both the necessary ticks and bacteria occur throughout both areas. This hypothesis is based on the observation that ticks in the south often feed on different animal host species than ticks in the north. Hannah tested whether ticks choose their hosts randomly, or whether ticks from different places have different host preferences. Her work showed that both northern and southern black-legged ticks preferred lizard hosts over mammal hosts, and therefore they only feed on mammals in the north when there are no lizards available.
With his project “Disparities in the Fecal Analysis of Jamaica Bay and Oyster Bay Diamondback Terrapins,” River Dell High School junior Chang Wong “Charlie” Lee was named an 11th grade winner of the 2014 Young Naturalist Awards by the Museum of Natural History. These awards recognize students from urban areas whose investigations demonstrate close observation, thoughtful analysis, and deep appreciation of the biodiversity, ecology, and habitats found in an urban environment.
Charlie also finished in the top 12 among 175 entries in the Northern New Jersey Regional Science Fair. Lee met Dr. Burke through an elective research course at his high school. Charlie spent his 2013 summer working in the field with Dr. Burke, helping to capture nesting terrapins and study their diets. When he compared the diets of the Jamaica Bay terrapins with previous work from Oyster Bay, he noticed a striking difference, even though the available prey species are the same. Charlie came up with a clear testable hypothesis that might explain this disparity, and will spend summer 2014 collecting the data to test his hypothesis.
An article at NewJersey.com, says that Lee has been passionately pursuing research on diamondback terrapin turtles in local estuaries. His science teacher explained that Lee “… took the initiative to attend a local herpetology society meeting, and was the only high school student present. He met Professor Burke at the meeting and succeeded in convincing him to be his mentor.”