Meet 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.
Women of NASA
Written by Lauren Banister
Edited by Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies