Three Ransom Everglades students became the first high school students in five years to win recognition at an annual scientific conference typically dominated by college and graduate students. Joseph Gross ’20, Max Vallone ’22 and Josh Buttrick ’22 earned two of five student awards presented at the Federation of Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy Societies SciX 2019 conference in Palm Springs, Calif., on Oct. 13.
The trio won Outstanding Spectroscopic Research for a Student Member awards for a pair of posters that described their interdisciplinary – and complementary – work, which was spearheaded by chemistry faculty member Dr. Claudia Ochatt and assisted by physics teacher Dr. Luis Felipe and engineering teacher Robert DuBard.
No other high school students even won entry into the poster session in which they competed, which featured 42 posters.
Gross was the lead author on a poster entitled “Machine Learning for Metal Identification in Water Samples Using Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy.” That poster described how the team used a laser and machine learning algorithms to identify six metals in water samples from Biscayne Bay.
Vallone and Buttrick helped push the project forward by utilizing 3-D printing technology to produce liquid sample holders that held the bay water in place and prevented splattering. They were the lead authors on the second poster: “Immobilization of Liquid and Oil Samples for Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy.”
"Our students were competing with undergrad and graduate students, and there were over 40 posters competing,” said Felipe, who accompanied the students to the conference. “The judges were completely blown away with the technical responses and detailed conversations they had with our students. It was very hard for them to grasp the fact that they are high schoolers. Afterwards we were approached by many scientists and event organizers asking about our students and our school."
The summer project was enabled by the donation of a laser by RE parent Dr. Ted Caplow, the founder of the Miami Science Barge and the Inventors-in-Residence program at the Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science.
“I am grateful to Dr. Caplow for his initial donation, and to Dr. Ochatt for leading this important project,” STEM Department Chair Doug Heller ’80 said. “Within a short period of time, she assembled a team of students and faculty, directed the set up of the equipment and oversaw the generation of significant data. This was a true, college-level interdisciplinary marine science research project.”
Founded in 1903, Ransom Everglades School is a coeducational, college preparatory day school for grades 6 - 12 located on two campuses in Coconut Grove, Florida. Ransom Everglades School produces graduates who "believe that they are in the world not so much for what they can get out of it as for what they can put into it." The school provides rigorous college preparation that promotes the student's sense of identity, community, personal integrity and values for a productive and satisfying life, and prepares the student to lead and to contribute to society.