Student experiments with vinegar and algae

Ninth-grader Jonathan Myers likes everything about the sea.

“I like the oceans and learning the science about the creatures in the oceans and how it all works,” he said.

The Oak Grove High School student has put his love of the water and sea animals to use in various science projects over the years.

“In past years, I had done projects on the effect of acid rain on shells and sea creatures,” he said.

He took those experiments a step further last year when he was an eighth-grader at Oak Grove Middle School.

He entered his project “The Effect of Ocean Acidification on the Bioluminescense of Pyrocystis fusiformis” into the Region I and Region IV Science and Engineering Fair at the University of Southern Mississippi.

It’s a long title for a science project that Myers has no trouble explaining.

Pyrocystis fusiformis are “a type of dinoflagellate, which is an algae, and when it is exposed to stress it glows as a defense mechanism,” he said.

Myers found a common household item to stand in for the acid rain.

“We added drops of vinegar, which is a substitute for the pollution and the acid rain,” he said. “I found the more acid you add to it, the longer they will glow for, but they will die after they finish glowing.”

Myers said the algae were being stressed by the vinegar.

“They glow for longer because the acid is putting stress on them,” he said. “That’s what’s killing our oceans — the pollution it gets in the rain and then it becomes acid rain.”

Myers’ project earned him recognition as a semifinalist in the 2014 Broadcom MASTERS program. Semifinalists were selected from more than 2,050 applications, after each application received three independent readings and evaluations from distinguished scientists, engineers and educators.

The 300 semifinalists hailed from 247 middle schools in 36 states and Puerto Rico. They represented 123 regional and state science fairs from around the country.

Myers’ mother Alice said her son is just pursuing what interests him.

“We had seen something about the algae that glow in the ocean when there’s turbulence,” she said. “He thought they looked cool and he wanted to do something with those.”

Myers and his mother ordered the algae online. They arrived in little tubes. Then he started experimenting.

“He puts a few drops in there, gets the pH where he wants it and watches what happens,” she said.

His mother said the fate of the algae is important to other ocean life.

“The shrimp and other little creatures feed on them, and the fish feed on the shrimp,” she said. “The algae is the bottom of the food chain.”

Alice Myers said her son worries about the fate of ocean life.

“I like to see him thinking that way,” she said. “(Thinking) about what happens in the future and how can we fix this.”

Myers said he won’t be thinking about science projects at all when he heads off on his next ocean adventure. He’s traveling this summer with his Boy Scout troop to the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base, a unique Scouting program that offers aquatics programs found nowhere else.

Myers said he just plans to have fun.


Photo caption: Oak Grove High School freshman Jonathan Myers, 14, holds his semifinalist ribbon he was awarded in the 2014 Broadcom MASTERS program. Myers submitted a project on the effects of ocean acidification on the bioluminescence of dinoflagellates. (Photo: Eli Baylis/ Hattiesburg American, Eli Baylis / Hattiesburg America)

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