Lobsters lend a helping claw to students

A Clark Magnet High School science teacher and five of her students have won the top prize and $70,000 in a national competition for their work in measuring ocean contaminants by testing lobster tissue.

The Lexus Eco Challenge — designed to encourage teachers and students to integrate classroom learning with real-world applications — was won by science teacher Dominique Evans-Bye and students Yeprem Chavdarian, Edward Kazaryan, Steve Kechichian, Tania Khanlari and Brian Higgins.

“This is the kind of study they would expect to experience in graduate school, so I am just giving them a head-start and showing them that science is fun,” Evans-Bye said.

The first phase, known as the Land/Water Challenge, took place in the fall and had a regional focus. The team used lobsters that Evans-Bye collected during personal fishing trips along the coast of California. They took the tissue samples to the Institute for Integrated Research in Materials, Environments and Society at Cal State Long Beach, where they were tested for heavy metals and pesticides, including arsenic.

“It felt nice being in a sophisticated place like that,” said Edward, 16. “I had never been in a lab before.”

Students then calculated the weighted average of contaminant levels by lobster size. Using geographic information system software, they were able to map out what parts of the California coast were most contaminated.

In January, the Clark Magnet team was named one of 16 winners in the Land/Water Challenge and was awarded a $10,000 prize. The team also won $10,000 in the Air/Climate Challenge for a project that mapped out flood risks in Glendale and the foothill communities.

When the group advanced to the final challenge of the competition, it was required to expand its lobster research to include global data. The students reached out to seafood vendors, collecting lobster samples from as far away as Australia, Nicaragua and South Africa.

The $30,000-grand prize brought the team’s total winnings to $50,000. And Lexus of Glendale has promised Clark an additional $20,000. Competition rules require that the money be shared by the school, Evans-Bye and the students and used for educational purposes.

“Their research projects and skills are real-world and we are very proud of them all,” said Clark Magnet Principal Doug Dall.

Students said it was a thrill to see their hard work pay off.

“I have learned that managing a group can be very difficult, but communication is really important,” Tania, 17, said. “I have learned how to use Photoshop, how to make posters, and how to edit film better. I have learned to be a better spokesperson, and leadership skills.”

The Eco Challenge allows students to put the principals they have learned in biology, chemistry, math and computer technology to work on issues that affect the local community.

“They get to see what science is really about,” Evans-Bye said. “In school, we are so standards-based these days, and you have to cover so much of the textbook. That tends to turn kids off from doing science. Science isn’t just reading a textbook and answering the questions in the back of the books.”

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