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Fiona Dunn '19 Takes Top Prize at MSSEF
Fiona Dunn '19 Takes Top Prize at MSSEF

Congratulations to Fiona Dunn '19 on winning the top award at the Massachusetts State Science & Engineering Fair (MSSEF) held on Friday, May 4 at MIT. 

Congratulations to Fiona Dunn '19 on winning the top award at the Massachusetts State Science & Engineering Fair (MSSEF) held on Friday, May 4 at MIT.  Fiona was selected from among 400 other students to receive the 19th Annual Sanofi Genzyme Science Award award in recognition of a student's exceptional achievement in science project development, research and presentation.

"I am still processing the fact that I won," says the Winsor junior, who won for her project entitled "pH Effects on Freshwater Snails. "I was definitely nervous. I knew I had to present my project five different times to five individual judges over a five hour period. And there were so many unbelievable projects. I was extremely humbled by the whole experience. But it was also a real affirmation of all the work I put into the project throughout the year."

Fiona first developed her project over the summer, seeing it as an opportunity to explore her duel interests in environmental science and genetics. After consulting with science teacher Gail Lima, who studied snails for her dissertation research, Fiona began her work as part of an Independent Study in Science course led by science teacher Rachel Bricklin. 

"I am very interested in the environment, pollution, and climate change, and am concerned about effects of acidification of freshwater bodies on the animals and plants that live in them. The purpose of my project was to study physical changes (antipredator behavior and shell damage) that occur with exposure to more acidic water and to see if these changes would correlate with changes in expression of genes associated with stress."

After completing the course, Fiona continued working on the project and developing subsequent aspects. "Any extra time I had – free periods, long weekend Mondays, vacations, lunch periods - I spent working on this project. I checked in with Ms. Bricklin frequently to make sure I was on track," says Fiona.

Extremely resourceful and persistent, "Fiona did a great job networking to find contacts in her area of interest who were willing to open their labs to her," notes science teacher Kim Ramos. "Through the connections she made, she was able to begin using Scanning Electron Microscopy as well as genetic testing in several different labs in the Boston area."

When asked about her biggest take away from the project, Fiona points to her findings. "The snails exhibit clear physical and genetic alterations with lower pH. What that indicates is that it is imperative that we do everything we can to protect our freshwater environments from sources such as acid rain, agricultural runoff, and absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."

She also shared her gratitude for the teachers who supported her throughout the year. "There's a saying, 'Behind every great woman is another, and another, and another.'  Ms. Bricklin, Ms. Lima and Ms. Ramos were truly behind me through this whole process.  I also knew that Ms. Martin, my AP French teacher, was with me in spirit the day of the science fair, and I'm thankful to her class for helping me build confidence in my presentation skills."

 "I'm excited to see what she does next!" adds Ms. Bricklin. 

Sponsored by the Sanofi Genzyme Corporation of Cambridge, the Annual SG Science Award, valued at $27,500, is multi-tiered to acknowledge the many factors contributing to the success of a student. The Award includes a $10,000 cash award recognition of a student's exceptional achievement in science project development, research and presentation. The winner will also be offered a paid summer internship, valued at $2,500+, at a Sanofi Genzyme facility in Massachusetts. The Student's high school science department will receive $10,000 to be used for a special project or program and a $5,000 externship is awarded for the student's teacher.