Student Features

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

NISP is a national science contest. It stands for "NASA Student Involvement Program". Students in grades K-12 can choose from six different categories. NSIP tests and helps students improve 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 class research paper. It sounded challenging and interesting, so I decided to give it a try.

Finding a topic was the first thing I had to do. I knew I wanted to do something in the "Watching Earth Change" category. First, I narrowed my interests down to the oceans. Information about chlorophyll was widely available. So I started exploring satellite images related to that. I eventually focused on phytoplankton -- 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 looking through an article when an idea hit me: Aerosols reflect light, and phytoplankton need light. Aerosols are small particles in the atmosphere. After many hours of research, I was able to form a hypothesis: In areas where aerosol concentration is high, the phytoplankton population will be low due to lack of sunlight.

Next came the hard part. I went though images from NASA satellites to see if they supported my hypothesis. In the end, 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 news to 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. I was able to see the projects that the other winners had done.

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

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