Meet Lauren Banister
Lauren Banister
Lauren Banister
Lauren Banister
First Place, 2003 NASA Student Involvement Program (NSIP)
10th grade, Shawnee Mission West High School, Overland Park, Kansas

The NASA Student Involvement Program (NISP) is a national science competition for grades K-12. The six competition categories are designed to foster science, math, technology and geography skills.

When I first got involved in NSIP, I never expected to go as far as I did. My biology teacher had several of her students win before, but I never expected to be one of them. NSIP was offered as an option for the required class research paper. It sounded challenging, as well as interesting, so I decided to give it a try.

Finding a topic was the first hurdle I had to overcome. I knew I wanted to do something in the "Watching Earth Change" category, and I narrowed my interests down to the oceans. Information about chlorophyll was widely available, so I started exploring satellite images related to it. I eventually narrowed my interests down to phytoplankton -- the microscopic plants that contain chlorophyll and form the base of the marine food chain.

Still, I needed a specific topic for my paper. I was browsing an article on aerosols -- small particles suspended in the atmosphere -- when an idea hit me: Aerosols reflect light, and phytoplankton need light. Eventually, after many hours of research, I was able to form a solid hypothesis: If high aerosol concentrations are present, then the phytoplankton population will be low in such areas due to a sunlight deficiency.

Next came the hard part. I used images from NASA satellites, such as SeaWiFS and TOMS, to provide support for my hypothesis. In the end, it turned out that the images did support my hypothesis. So I wrote the paper, sent it in and waited. When I found out that I had won, it took a few hours for the reality to actually sink in. I also found out that I would meet other winners at the NSIP National Symposium in Virginia. The Symposium was probably the most exciting part about winning, since I was able to see the projects that the other winners had done.

Overall, I think that the NSIP experience will affect me more than I realize right now. I am still very interested in science, and am currently interested in a medical career. The fact that I have a much stronger idea of what I am capable of is probably the most significant effect.

Related Resources

Women of NASA


Written by Lauren Banister
Edited by Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies