LITTLETON, Colo. — Students at a Douglas County high school have taken a science project to the next level, and now they are spending their free time using what they've learned to make a difference in the lives of future students.
Three teens at Rock Canyon High School are working to determine why there is a rare lung disease in Hawaii. They are teaming up with mentors at Iolani School in Hawaii and research academic mentors at National Jewish Health in Denver.
It started out as a project for their biotech research class during their junior year and turned into a passion.
“The part of our project that made it really novel was that the bacteria we are studying, no one has done environmental sampling in Colorado,” said senior Reagan Kelley.
Kelley and fellow classmates Jackson Leonard and Kayden Glauser put their heads together to figure out if this same bacterium, called NTM, is here in Colorado, so they went on a mission to find out.
They brought new technology called a genome sequencer to RCHS, which is the first in the state.
“We traveled to Boulder, Dylan, Aspen, Vail and throughout the Denver region to collect all these samples,” said Leonard.
“So we collected all of our samples from gas stations. And so at the gas station, we collected ice samples from ice machines,” said senior Kayden Glauser.
The students also swabbed water from underneath bathroom sinks.
“NTM forms biofilms that can live inside pipes like municipal water sources,” said Kelley.
They found that NTM is a lung disease that is slim to none in the Rocky Mountain state, and they are working to try and figure out why. Their research will soon be published in a science journal, and their hard work will be paying off for future Rock Canyon students.
“For these students to have done whole genome sequencing in high school, they are opening up the door for future research to be done at the high school level and really for us to understand the world and life around us that we can't see,” said Rock Canyon High School science teacher Susanne Petri.
These students plan to continue their work as mentors during their final year of high school, using their free time to try and make a difference. They say this project turned passion will likely become a career.
“Originally I wanted to be a radiologist, but now am looking toward research, more specifically environmental research,” said Glauser.
The project is shaping the future for not one, but three high school seniors whose lives have now changed all because of a research project.