Student tests the waters of high-level research

Posted May 10, 2009, at 8:01 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — While most of her classmates have been planning for prom, graduation and summer jobs, Bangor High School senior Anne Marie Lausier has been perfecting her technique using synchronous-scan fluorescence spectroscopy.

“Do you need me to spell that for you?” Lausier joked in an interview late last week at her school.

For the last several months, the 18-year-old has spent most of her free time borrowing space in a University of Maine chemistry lab or in the field at one of three area lakes. Lausier has been conducting research with synchronous-scan fluorescence spectroscopy, or SFS, to detect pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the water.

To read Lausier’s paper, click here.

Don’t feel bad for her, though. Lausier’s work led to a research paper that was entered into an international competition known as the Stockholm Junior Water Prize. She, along with her chemistry teacher, Cary James, will travel to Anchorage, Alaska, next month to compete against representatives from other states. The winner there will go to Stockholm, Sweden, to compete against other countries and, among other things, dine with the king of Sweden.

So, how are her chances for actually winning the prize?

“It’s hard to know,” Lausier said. “I feel pretty happy with my research. And, if nothing else, it’s a free trip to Alaska.”

James, who encouraged his student to apply for the contest, said Lausier is being modest.

“What she’s doing right now is basically what Ph.D. students would be doing,” James said. “A lot of [high school] kids think, ‘I can do this’ but it’s a rarity that someone will see it through because it’s a lot of work.”

Lausier agreed.

“I was ripping my hair out at some points,” she said of her research. “There were a lot of failures. But you can’t let it get you down. You have to think about the big picture.”

Listening to Lausier talk about the SFS can be humbling. Essentially, she said, the device measures electron activity to test water samples without separating particles from the water. More and more, environmentalists have expressed concerns about the level of debris and potential toxins in lakes, streams and rivers, some of which are public drinking water supplies.

“In theory, it’s a much more cost-effective and less time-consuming method of detection,” she said. To her knowledge, no one locally has used the SFS for this purpose.

Last summer, Lausier began an internship at the UMaine chemistry department through the Maine Space Grant Consortium’s MERITS program. That’s when her work began. She credited graduate student Jim Killarney for helping her along the way, and Dr. Howard Patterson for allowing her to use lab space.

And, of course, her high school chemistry teacher pushed her as well.

“She’s really just scratched the surface,” James said. “People can spend their lives on this type of research.”

Lausier hasn’t planned that far ahead. Her next step is George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where she plans to major in chemistry. Then, graduate school. Then, who knows?

“I am interested in other things,” she said. “But, this has been fun so far.”

More information about the Stockholm Junior Water Prize is available online at www.wef.org/AboutWater/ForStudents/SJWP/

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