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High School Student Selected as ISEF Finalist for Work in McCormick Lab

Haley Sproull, a junior at Niles North High School who has worked in a McCormick research laboratory, has been selected as a finalist in the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) for her project, “Biomineralization of calcium-based plant crystals as a model for strontium phytoremediation.” 

Sproull became interested in the use of plants to capture radioactive waste after reading about how algae can be used to selectively remove radioactive, work that was carried out in the lab of Derk Joester, assistant professor of materials science and engineering.

Excited to develop this model further, Sproull contacted Joester, who encouraged her extend the project to terrestrial plants that sequester ions by forming mineral deposits within their tissues. Working under the guidance of graduate student Chantel Tester, Haley used polarization microscopy, SEM-EDS, and FT-IR spectroscopy to study strontium sequestration in the phytoliths of tomato and tobacco plants.

“Working in Professor Joester’s lab has been a wonderful experience,” Sproull said. “There were some ups and downs — a lot of my plants died — but it taught me what it’s like to be involved in research and how to overcome challenges. This is a valuable skill that I’ll be able to apply to all areas of my life.”

Sproull will present her work at ISEF, the world’s premier pre-collegiate science competition, in Pittsburgh in May.

Haley’s work is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF DMR-1106208), by the MRSEC program of the National Science Foundation (DMR-1121262) at the Materials Research Center of Northwestern University, and by the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN).

Haley Sproull