By Dale McGarrigle
Special to The Weekly
Call it trickle-down science.
Nathan Dee, who graduated June 9 from Bangor High School, recently won the Stockholm Junior Water Prize for the state of Maine.
The victory for Dee marks the sixth consecutive year that a Bangor High student has won the state Water Prize. Much of the credit for that success should go to an ongoing water research program at the school under the auspices of chemistry teacher Cary James.
In 2010, Rebecca Ye won the national competition and went on to compete internationally in Stockholm, Sweden. Leila Musavi won the Bjorn von Euler prize in 2011, and she earned a trip to Stockholm as well.
Dee, 18, of Bangor, won for his work on the project “Spectrofluorometric Study on the Interaction Between Pharmaceuticals and Dissolved Organic Carbon.”
In simple terms, Dee was part of a University of Maine research team working to find better ways to detect pharmaceuticals in water.
“Our bodies and wastewater-treatment plants can’t entirely purify these pharmaceuticals,” explained Dee, a National Honor Society member who won the Superintendent’s Award.
How does a then-high school junior end up working on a college research project? In Dee’s case, it was a combination of talent and connections.
He took an advanced-placement chemistry course his junior year, and “I had an absolute blast with that,” he recalled.
Through the Maine Research Internships for Teachers and Students (MERITS) program, James got Dee a spot on the pharmaceuticals projects that he and James Killarney, a doctoral candidate at UMaine, had been working on for the past six years in the Aubert Hall lab. The projects were overseen by Prof. Howard Patterson.
What started as a seven-week paid internship last summer led to a research opportunity that continued through Dee’s senior year. He explained that the research is working to isolate “environmental factors that would affect detection of pharmaceuticals in the water supply.”
Finding the amounts and kinds of pharmaceuticals in the water is the first step in figuring out how to treat them, James explained.
Dee’s role included “to help prepare samples and run them through the spectrofluorometer and to help with the ideas on this part of the project.”
One of the goals of the project is to develop a portable, affordable version of the spectrofluorometer.
Dee ended up a co-author of a portion of the project, and his efforts earned him the state Stockholm Junior Water Prize. He went on to the national competition June 14-16 in Portland, Ore.
His experiences in the research lab will lead Dee back to Orono this fall, when he will major in engineering.
“I did enjoy the aspect of trying to develop something new,” he said. “That’s why I liked engineering, to get the opportunity to design something using various aspects of science.”