Investigating Novel Solutions Through Applied Research

Past Research

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  • Photo of Marks McWhorter

    Mr. Marks McWhorter 

    Upper School Science Teacher, Science Department Chair, and Bower INSTAR Research Leader
    (601) 853-6000
Through Applied Research, the INSTAR Scholars Program strengthens our current independent research track by training students in more detailed experimental design and data analysis with univariate and multivariate statistics, by giving them greater experience in scientific writing and publication and by providing opportunities for independent work with an advisor in their respective field of study at school. The program benefits students competing in the state's science fair by giving them greater background knowledge and experience in shaping their own research projects.

List of 12 items.

  • Predicting Earthquake Aftershocks with Machine Learning – Forrest Hutchison

    Best of Fair
    Computer Science and Math – 1st Place

    The toll of earthquake aftershocks, which are potentially even more dangerous than mainshock earthquakes, presents a problem well-suited to machine learning. The occurrence of aftershocks over time is difficult to predict using traditional methods, and such information could have substantial benefits for public safety in earthquake-prone areas. The purpose of this project is to find a machine learning model that is capable of predicting earthquake aftershocks with high precision. Several neural network models were created with varying parameters and architectures, and each was trained and tested on a dataset of 40,000 earthquakes. Performance was assessed by training loss, validation loss, prediction accuracy, and false positive rate. Two models were identified as high performing based on these criteria, one with the lowest training and validation loss, the other with the highest prediction accuracy and lowest false positive rate. the high-accuracy model predicted 95.6% of the aftershocks in the test set within 24 hours, and 98.5% of the earthquakes predicted by the model occurred. The low-loss model had a training loss of 0,0174 and a validation loss of 0.0170. The success of these models suggests that aftershocks can be accurately and reliably predicted using neural networks, particularly with the architectures used in those models. The project provides both a tool capable of predicting aftershocks from mainshock earthquakes as well as potential insight into the relationship between mainshocks and aftershocks through further analysis of the structure of the models.
  • Effects of Heat on Transformed E. coli Growth – Wake Monroe

    2nd Place Overall
    Microbiology – 1st Place

    With global temperatures on the rise due to Climate Change, decreases in Biodiversity and the increase in temperature sensitive illnesses demand further study to see how increases in temperatures relate to these aspects of Biology. Using Ampicillin resistant E. coli, the effects of increased temperature on antibiotic resistant bacterium were analyzed. Two groups of Ampicillin resistant E. coli were tested: a 37-degree Celsius and 39-degree Celsius group. The two plates were inoculated with a dilution containing Ampicillin resistant E. coli. Over the course of four days the two group's growths were taken, and the percentage of the place covered by the bacteria was measured. The data showed that on the fourth day the 37-degree place was 50.739% covered and the 39 degree place was 32.137% covered. After calculating the standard error of the mean, it was shown that the two had a significant difference in results with 95% confidence. The data showed that my initial hypothesis, which stated that the 39-degree plate would have a higher growth rate and percentage, was rejected. Upon further research, it was found that the likely cause was the degradation of the cell walls of the E. coli. The results of my research show correlation between increase in temperature to decrease in growth rate. This is indicative of the effects of increased global temperatures in relation to decreased biodiversity.
  • Analysis and Vision about Brain-Computer Interface – Shijie Wang

    Computer Science and Math – 1st Place

    Full dive, also known as full dive virtual reality (FDVR), is a technology that aims to create a virtual world for people to experience common senses just as they have in real world. These senses include touch feeling, auditory sense, visual sense, olfaction, gustation, and even algesia. Therefore, to achieve this kind of "full-immersion" experience, a new technology called Brain-Computer Interface, BCI, has to be developed first. To develop a functional and usable BCI device, researchers have to understand "what is a BCI," "what are its functions," "how to effectively and accurately obtain and input data with BCI," and "moral questions and future visions of BCI" and have ideas about the conceptual design of a BCI along with the potential materials and precautions. The data and creative ideas are collected and inspired by various online classes, TED Talks, essays, and professional books. This project comes up with a design concept of a BCI device and the comparison between fMRI, EEG, EcoG, LFP, and Single-Unite Recording which are all the current methods that can be used to obtain data. So far, it seems that the combined use of ECoG and LFP can provide relatively accurate data; however; new methods could and must be developed in order to achieve the widespread use of BCI technology. Advanced signal amplifiers, new materials, and computer programs which can accurately transmit and analyze data also need to be developed. Moreover, potential physical risks and moral problems related to BCI could be serious; therefore, laws and moral standards need to be established before being published for civil use. The estimated time required for the first generation of BCI devices is around 12 years, and the estimated cost is $2,000 (civilian version). Although research uses reliable resources as materials, the ideas that came up during research are theoretical which means their feasibility and usability need to be further tested.
  • Artificial Stratification of Native Plant Seeds – John Kees

    Botany – 2nd Place

    This experiment aimed to test the effectiveness of artificial cold stratification on the seeds of several plant species native to Mississippi, USA, in order to improve methods for growing them in an artificial setting, primarily for use in landscaping as a low-maintenance and ecologically beneficial alternative to non-natives, many of which are invasive. 6 species produced usable results: Chrysoma pauciflosculosa (Michaux) Green, Balduina uniflora Nuttal, and Silphium perfoliatum L. in Asteraceae; Lobelia cardinalis L. in Campanulaceae; Ctenium aromaticum (Walter) Wood in Poaceae; and Monarda fistulosa L. in Lamiacea. As stratification has been demonstrated to be effective in breaking dormancy in similar species, by stimulating absorption of oxygen all were expected to demonstrate at least a slight increase in germination and decrease in days required for germination after artificial stratification. All seeds were surface-sown in the same grow chamber. For each species one control group was planted immediately, and one experimental group was planted after approximately one month of stratification in moist sand in a refrigerator. Four species demonstrated a decrease in time to germination and an increase in total germination as predicted, and two demonstrated an increase in time to germination and a decrease in total germination. These two species, Lobelia cardinalis and Monarda fistulosa have extremely small seeds, so the stratification medium may have decreased exposure to the light source in the experimental group. The others increased as predicted, but overall still displayed low germination percentages, suggesting that other treatments may be necessary for optimum germination in these species.
  • Effects of Video Games on Physiological Parameters – Harrison Speed

    Medicine and Health Sciences – 1st Place

    Concerned parents have theorized for years that video games and television are detrimental to the health of their children. Many of these concerns focus on the mental effects of the games' content and themes, and as a consequence, very few studies ahve been performed to assess the physiological effects video games can have on a person. In this experiment, several participants were asked to play video games of different tones and genres while their heart rate was measured. They were given a questionnaire before and after playing the games to determine the games' effect on their stress level and sleep time. The experiment found that none of the text subjects shoed very much reaction to the games. Average heart rate remained mostly the same, and the highest jump between one's maximum control heart rate and maximum during a game was twelve beats per minute, however this point was the only want to show such a drastic increase. None of the participants reported feeling any noticeable changes in their sleeping habits, lifestyle, or stress level. Contrary to the hypothesis, the experiment found that no physiological effects could be observed as a result of playing video games. Further experiments could take into account the effects of regular or prolonged gameplay, as well as observing other parameters. 
  • Generation Lit – Alix Ebner and Auburn Hamme

    Behavioral and Social Sciences – 6th Place

    The purpose of this project was to research the effects of smoking and how it affects society today. Smoking as been an epidemic since the late nineteenth century, and though the amount of smokers is declining, many still smoke today. Our project was conducted through several steps. First, we thoroughly discussed topics that were prevalent in today's society. After choosing the topic of cigarettes, we decided to make our research pertain to the social science category. We created a detailed survey with questions regarding smoking and its effects to send to adults as well as high school seniors to collect our data. While we waited for responses, we did detailed research relating to our topic, focusing on its health hazards and outcomes. In our survey, the majority stated that he or she had never been addicted to smoking cigarettes. Those who had also usually experienced mental issues, stress, and had family members who had been addicted. In conclusion, we found that less adults smoke compared to the previous statistics.
  • Identifying Various Demographics within a Heterogenous Populations – Khalil Jackson

    Behavioral and Social Sciences – 1st Place

    Empathizing and understanding others is an essential skill needed to succeed in life, and the intuition to make those distinctions varies from person to person. The purpose of this experiment was to determine if an individual's identity affects their ability to correctly identify various demographics. Participants completed an online survey by providing personal information and answering a series of ten prompts that asked them to match the statement with a demographic. Each survey was scored based on accuracy, and all the data was compiled to make comparisons between the categorical data and accuracy. The date went under various Shapiro-Wilks tests, Wilcoxon Rans Sum tests, Bivariate of Fit tests, One-Way analyses, etc. No significant difference was discovered between accuracy or ethnicity, age, sexuality, or religious affiliation. Participants who chose more answers did not increase their accuracy. However, the data provided enough evidence that females were more accurate in identifying demographics (approx. 10% more accurate). This evidence suggests that there is no correlation between individual demographics and how well they can identify multiple demographics, except in the case of females. Females are more accurate than males and the rest of the population at large. With this being an experiment that did not have random selection, the results of this data can only apply to the participants. Even if this were not the case, one study does not provide enough information to make a definitive conclusion on the topic.
  • Insulation Sensation – Maya Adams and Victoria Callhan

    Physics and Astronomy – 5th Place

    Insulation is an important part of keeping houses at a comfortable temperature while keeping energy costs down. However, many insulations are dangerous, and their manufacturing can emit greenhouse gasses, which contribute to global warming. Finding insulation that is save as well as a by-product of materials that are already being manufactured can help cut down on the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere due to manufacturing. The various possible new insulations, old t-shirts, peanut shells, and wood chips, were all placed into each of the three boxes surrounding a frozen plastic water bottle. The viability of the insulation was then measured by comparing it both to a test run with only the water bottle and a test run with an insulation brand which is sold in stores. Store-bough insulation took the longest time to heat up, with the empty boxes taking the shortest amount of time to achieve the same result. These two results created a spectrum, into which all the tested materials fell. The peanut shells performed the best out of the tested materials, while the Pecan wood chips performed the worst. the peanut shells, although having the lowest temperature change of the test materials, also rose in temperature the quickest. This study exhibited the inability of the alternative materials being tested to meet the standard of current house insulations. Also shown was that the tested materials are preferable to the option of no insulation and could potentially exceed current insulations' abilities if modified to better suit the required conditions.
  • Sargassum's Impact on Ocean Acidification – Vivian Pryor

    Earth and Environmental Science – 1st Place

    This experiment focuses on the effect of sargassum on marin pH. By keeping sargassum in different treatments with varying initial pH, I measured pH, salinity, and ammonia over 19 days in six different treatments: 1) Control without buffer, 2) Similar to control with buffer, 3) Current oceanic pH, 4) Predicted ocean pH in 21000 with no change in carbon emissions, 5) Predicted ocean pH in 2100 with worst-case carbon emissions (repeated once), and 6) Predicted ocean pH in 2100 with worst-case carbon emissions without algae (repeated once). Shapiro-Wilk tests were run to determine if the pH was normally distributed across all treatments. A Kruskal-Wallis analysis determining the impact of sargassum on pH and a Tukey HSD analysis were performed to determine the differences among treatments. Sargassum plays a role in the carbon cyble, which could be investigated further as a way to counteract ocean acidification, but unknown factors could have played a role in raising the pH of several treatments.
  • The Effect of Cold Water – Ananya Yerra

    Medicine and Health Sciences – 3rd Place

    The purpose of this experiment was to see how having your hand submerged in water can affect your heart rate. Ten randomly picked students from exclusively St. Andrew's Episcopal School, who were older than 18 were asked to place their hand in a beaker of freezing cold water. Throughout this process their heart rates were recorded before, during, and 2 minutes afterward. To allow for no exterior forces acting on the results, the experiment was done in the same place with the same size beaker. The hypothesis predicted that the heart rate would rise higher than the resting rate during the test, and would then rapidly return to its resting rate. The average beginning rate was 85.3 beats per minute. The during rate average was 83.6 beats per minute. The predicted null hypothesis failed, however, the after 2 minutes average heart rate greatly differed from the "resting" rage at the beginning. These results show that the effect on cold water does not increase heart rate. 
  • Wax Worms Eating Plastic – Kenneth Retumban and Joshua Robertson

    Earth and Environmental Science – 2nd Place

    Landfills across the planet are being filled by the large amounts of plastics used daily. Discovering a method to dispose of this waste is an essential task for people across the planet. We hypothesize that wax works will be able to deteriorate polyethylene plastic because the works are able to decompose similar large carbon molecules in wax. Five hard plastic containers had a roughly 0.2-gram sheet of polyethylene plastic placed inside. Then four worms were distributed into each of the containers except for one. The containers were closed with only small holes at the top, and the mass of the plastic sheet was measured daily for deterioration. After a week of data collection, the results shoed no change in the masses of the plastic. All of the test groups had negligible deterioration or none at all. Test group B even had a higher mass on the final day. The maximum amount of mass lost was 0.008 grams of plastic. This experiment rejected our hypothesis that wax worms could deteriorate plastic because data suggested that the worms had no effect on the polyethylene. Further testing would be needed to deduce whether the rejection was due to the worms, the type of plastic, or the hypothesis itself.
  • Which Age Group is More Fearful – Kate Rodenmeyer and William Langford

    Behavioral and Social Sciences – 4th Place

    Fear has been a part of human's lives since the dawn of time. One of the greatest motivators has been said to be fear. Because fear is such a vital part of the human life, we strived to help better understand it. The first step in this process is to understand fear was to learn whether or not fear increased or decreased with age. To begin this experiment, we needed to find something that would incite fear within both adults and teenagers. The most universally scary thing that we thought of was the fear of cockroaches. We would measure the heart rates of adults and teenagers individually. The participants would be met with twice, once to take a resting heart rate and another time to touch the cockroaches. The data would then be taken and then analyzed. The averages were taken for each category; adult resting, adult scared, teenager resting, teenager scared. The results of our experiment when compared to each group supported our hypothesis. We hypothesized that adults would be less scared which the data proved to be tru. We started this experiment knowing that fear dominates our lives. We hoped that fear would lessen as we age. Our hopes were affirmed by our experiment. This knowledge reassures young people who often deal with intense fear on a daily level while also providing insight into the seemingly unknown forc e of fear.

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