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Can First Responders Handle Stress Better? Teen Investigates and Wins Science Fairs Using Human SpikerBox

Sofia R. De Lorenzo presenting her work on stress tolerance first responders
Sofia presents her work. Photo her own

Related Post: High School Students Publish a Paper on Plant Physiology in a Notable Journal

It’s tested and proven: Paramedics, firefighters, police officers and other first responders are almost twice as likely to develop PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) at some point in their lives than the rest of us. Still, many of them are either unaware of it or they go on with their lives without ever reporting or treating it. Worse yet, as reports have it, they are 1.39 times more prone to suicide than others.

While heroes of our communities are busy helping others, there’s someone who thinks of them. Sofia R. De Lorenzo, a teen attending Tucson High Magnet School in Arizona, turned to science to find out if stress tolerance in first responders could actually be greater than in civilians. But her aim went beyond asking the right question and finding an answer to it. The overarching goal of her research was to spread awareness of the underreported psychological impact in first responders.

And it just so happened that her research caught the ear of many! Encouraged by her school teacher Jeremy Jonas and mentored by John Moore from the Ricoy Lab, she ran a poster presentation and penned down her findings in a research paper. A bunch of awards would ensue: the SARSEF Fair Grand Award in Behavioral and Social Sciences, APA Certificate of Achievement in Research in Psychological Science, Easterseals Blake Foundation Top Award and The Betsy Bolding Top Award.

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Free NeuroRobots Teacher Workshop for Michiganders: Grab Your Spot Today!

neurorobots teacher workshop

It spins, wiggles or beeps when it detects certain colors and shapes. It chases or runs away from objects. It learns and solves problems, and does it all much like your own brain: thanks to neural networks comprising of neurons, synapses and an occasional shot of dopamine to reinforce this or that behavior. High school teachers of Michigan, say hello to the NeuroRobot (a.k.a. the SpikerBot)!

This little guy has been in the works for some time now, so you’ll get to test it along with a corresponding curriculum in a free 6.5-hour professional development workshop on Saturday, May 25, 2024, at the Michigan Science Center in Detroit. Then, you’ll be able to bring the curriculum back into your classroom and implement it! We already ran this workshop in NYC earlier this year, with 30 NeuroRobots scampering off to the classrooms and a big waiting list as a result. Our point? Space is limited and it’s first come, first served, so you’ll want to secure your spot as quickly as possible.

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High School Students Publish a Paper on Plant Physiology in a Notable Journal

high schoolers from chile doing plant experiments
The students doing the experiments. Photos by Abraham Martínez Gutiérrez, official photographer of the high school.

— Written by Tim Marzullo —

In an article we previously published in June 2022 about our scientific paper that dealt with play behavior in fish, I concluded at the end of the article:

I think it is possible for novices and high school students to publish papers (and it is the dream and goal of our team)… That is why we are planning an experiment. We want to publish with a school in Santiago, Chile, collaborating with second and third year high school students. We are collecting data on electrical signals in plants… If it works, we will tell you…

Dear readers, 21 months after writing this, the day has arrived. We did it! Our paper recently appeared in the academic journal “Plant Signaling and Behavior” about our experiments in electrophysiology in plants, with 5 high school students as the first authors. You can read the paper here.

A library of electrophysiological responses in plants - a model of transversal education and open science
The beginning of the published paper, with high school students in the front line

Electrical signals in plants? What? Yes, it is understudied and often misunderstood, but plants do have signals similar to the electrical signals we have in our hearts, muscles, and brain. However, they are much slower (1,000-15,000 times slower). But what are they for? In the famous examples of the venus flytrap and the sensitive mimosa, the electrical signals coordinate their fast movements, but electrical signals also exist in plants that do not move quickly, such as tomatoes, chili peppers, basil, etc.

One of the functions of electrical signals in plants is as an alarm signal. For example, if a herbivore is eating a plant, an electrical signal passes through the branches saying “we are under attack” and the plant can synthesize bitter compounds so that the leaves taste bitter. A plant cannot escape when under attack, and it has the problem that it is “stuck in place forever” (i.e., it cannot run away from a threat, or fight physically), but there are protection systems and defenses (thorns, poisons, production of bitter compounds, etc.).

Dear reader, the day has arrived. We did it! Our paper about our experiments in electrophysiology in plants recently appeared in the academic journal “Plant Signaling and Behavior,” with 5 high school students as the first authors.

As electrophysiology in plants is understudied, we wanted to further investigate electrical signals in plants that do not necessarily move rapidly. And with that idea, we began to work on an ambitious project with the (high school) Colegio Alberto Blest Gana (CABG) in San Ramón, Santiago.

But before discussing the results, we must give a little more context about the scientific publication process.

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