My name is Ayman Napsy Isahaku and I am currently a freshman at The Ohio State University studying Neuroscience. As an eighth-grade student five long years ago, I possessed a deep curiosity for discovery and finding innovative solutions to problems. It was during the beginning of my freshman year of high school that I realized that science was the perfect outlet for my curiosity and drive to innovate. However, although I knew I wanted to become involved in science, I didn’t know how. Of course, I took my basic science classes in school like every other student, but I constantly found myself questioning things I was learning and wanting to understand things further than the level at which we were being taught. I wanted to be more involved in science and be able to contribute, rather than just reading textbooks and taking tests. I wanted to see science in action outside of a controlled classroom lab where the teacher already knew what was going to happen. I decided that I wanted to one day be one of the people that students learn about in school for their contributions to how humans understand the world we live in.
Later that year, my biology teacher provided me with an opportunity that I will forever be grateful for, Science Fair. Science fair is a competition that encourages students to conduct their own scientific research projects to test their own unique hypotheses and predictions about how something works, or to find a new, innovative way to do something. After the projects have been completed, students present their research to panels of judges who are experts is a vast array of scientific fields, competing to see who has the best project. For me, a young student very interested in science and very competitive, I saw it as a golden opportunity. My first year of high school I did an engineering project where I tried to use magnetism and a computer fan to create a perpetual energy device. (This is physically impossible as stated in numerous laws of physics). Unsurprisingly, my project failed miserably. I didn’t get anything to work, my research paper was subpar, and I did not win at the school fair. Devastated, I thought “Oh well, I guess I was wrong, science isn’t for me.” I completely trashed the idea of making a project the next year and joined the school robotics team instead. However, during my junior year, I took AP Biology with Mrs. Jennifer Bault at Nicolet High School, and she reignited my passion for science. In her class I remembered everything that I loved about research and discovery, and decided to give science fair another try. My junior year, I did a project where I measured heavy metal concentration in various water sources and experimented to see the effect of these metals on fish behavior. I began my investigation the same way I had during my freshman year by myself, but quickly realized that if I wanted to be better, I would need help. So, I talked to teachers at my school and was connected with Dr. Michael Carvan, the head of a research lab at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences. He mentored me throughout my project that year, giving me access to his lab to use tools and learn research strategies that are on the cutting edge of modern science. That year I was successful at the Nicolet High School fair and qualified for the Wisconsin State Science Fair. Although I did not place in the top three in my category at the state fair, just being there as one of the top projects in the state thrilled me and made me want more.
My senior year was the last year that I would be eligible to compete in science fair, so I wanted to go big. I crafted my project again with the help of Dr. Carvan, “Metformin as a Novel Neurogenic Method of Methylmercury Neurotoxicity Symptom Mitigation in Danio rerio as a Model for Human Fetuses.” Essentially my project was to discover a way that the diabetes drug, Metformin, can potentially help treat problems that occur in the brains of developing children as a result of exposure to mercury. It was a lot of hard work, having to work at least 14 hours a week for about 4 months straight. But I was enjoying it and in the end, it paid off. I placed first at the Nicolet fair that year and again qualified for the Wisconsin State Fair where I won the first prize, qualifying me for the International Science and Engineering Fair, ISEF, where I competed against the top 1,800 high school projects from over eighty countries around the world. At ISEF, I placed first and won best in category. In addition, I was honored with an expense paid trip to India to meet with researchers about my research and represent the United States at the Indian national science fair. It was and still is by far my greatest achievement and it has opened many doors for me. As a result of my success at ISEF, I was granted admission to many universities across the country and received many scholarships. I eventually accepted a full-ride scholarship to The Ohio State University to continue studying neuroscience which was the field of my science fair project.
Science fair single handedly changed my life and put me on a path that, with continued hard work, will likely breed success. I will forever be grateful to the teachers and researchers that helped me and inspired me along the way. I strongly encourage any students, no matter how much experience they have with science, to take on the challenge and participate in science fairs. It is a lot of hard work, but like with anything in life, if you work hard at it and don’t let setbacks keep you down, you will find that you’re capable of way more than you thought possible. If someone would have told me during my freshman year that in three years I would have one of the top ten high school research projects in the world, I would not have believed that I could ever do such a thing. I encourage any student regardless of their interests to consider participating in science fairs. Aside from the immense growth that accompanies creating your own project from an academic standpoint, you will develop a stronger work ethic and problem-solving skills that will benefit you regardless of which path your life leads you down.
Thank you for listening to my story and if you have any questions regarding science fair, my personal experience with it, or just about high school in general, feel free to email me at Isahaku.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Student and Parent Voices
Hear from and about gifted and talented students and parents across the state Wisconsin.