FCE student researcher gets planet named after him

Network News Fall 2009, Vol. 22 No. 2

Felix Varela Senior High school student Christopher Sanchez has always been enthusiastic about the research he conducts with FCE scientists. But this year turned out to be special: in his third year working in the FCE Research Experience for Secondary Students (RESSt) program, Chris had a minor planet named in his honor after winning Second Place in "Plant Science" and a $1500 cash award at the 2009 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (see www.azstarnet.com/sn/education/300136.php and www.societyforscience.org/intelisef09/intelisef09gao.pdf for additional information).

Chris's project, which wowed judges at the regional, state, and international science fairs this year, was called "Interpreting the hydrologic history of an Everglades wetland through microscopic characterization of phytoliths." In addition to the awards, he was offered an internship to work with a leading phytolith researcher at the University of Nevada.

Chris also received Superior in the Botany division at the 54th South Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair where he was awarded Best Biological project and received the George Avery Award by the Florida Native Plant Society. He was one of 12 senior high students to represent Miami Dade County Public Schools at the 54th State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida, where he also got Second Place in the Botany division and a $40,000 scholarship to the Florida Institute of Technology.

Chris described his experience as "mind-blowing." He noted:

"I began working in (Dr. Gaiser's) lab on what would become my science fair project, scanning through thousand year old soil for these little siliceous plant deposits known as 'phytoliths.' Both Drs. Saunders and Gaiser have been unbelievable mentors. They were always around to help me out when I was stumped by a question or not sure how to proceed, and they always pointed me in the right direction. Working with the FCE LTER has no doubt been a life changing experience."

FCE RESSt intern Erikamarie Gil was also recognized for outstanding achievements, winning one of 30 Planet Connect Grants from the National Environmental Education Foundation. She was the only Florida recipient and will use the $1000 award to raise awareness about south Florida native plants. Erikamarie is working with FCE staff to identify plants and construct a dichotomous key, photographic identification guide and GIS map for students and teachers to use at the habitat reclamation area created as a joint venture between FCE and the CEMEX Florida East Coast Quarry.

The FCE Research Program for pre-college students began in 2002 with a single high school student enrolled in our RESSt program. Since then FCE researchers have worked with over 33 students on an individual basis and an additional 30 in small group settings. This past year an additional nine students worked directly with FCE researchers.

FCE also announces a new program called Datadventures! Check out our FCE Files Data Movie on our Education and Outreach pages http://fcelter.fiu.edu/education_outreach/ Also check FCE LTER on Facebook and Twitter! FCE looks forward to hearing from you!