Montana State University

Teens in MSU outreach project win Montana’s top science fair prize

April 8, 2014 -- MSU News Service

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Tel: (406) 994-4571

BOZEMAN – Two brothers from Columbia Falls have won Montana’s top science fair prize with a research project they developed through a Montana State University outreach project called BioScience Montana.

Colin Norick, 15, and Colter Norick, 16, presented their work on “The Correlation between Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) Levels and Cognitive Function in Healthy Teens” at the 2014 Montana State Science Fair held at the University of Montana in March. They won numerous awards, including, the Grand Award First Place Team, UM College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences first place, and the Mu Alpha Theta Award for the most challenging, original, thorough and creative investigation of a problem.

Their project was also a finalist in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which means the pair will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the Intel science fair in Los Angeles in May.

“Winning the big award was very nice. It proved that all the work we put into the project was well placed,” said Colin.

The brothers have been participating in BioScience Montana since August. The intensive, eight-month experience offers 4-H members from around Montana a chance to conduct scientific research, learn about bioscience-related careers and collaborate via distance learning technologies. Students work with MSU faculty and students to complete three modules: neuroscience, infectious diseases and metabolomics. They are then encouraged to undertake a project of their own design.

The Noricks chose to research the effectiveness of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid believed to improve brain function after learning about the importance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from Edward Dratz, an MSU professor of chemistry and biochemistry. The brothers recruited fellow Columbia Falls High School students to receive a standard dose or a double dose of a DHA supplement or a placebo. Two months later, preliminary data showed that teens who took DHA showed improved cognitive function and attention compared to placebo; however, the double dose did not produce superior results to the standard dose.

According to Dratz, the teens’ research goes beyond just a science fair project and has the potential to impact the scientific literature.

“Many studies have been done on DHA and brain function, but most previous work was on infants or elderly people,” Dratz said. “There is very little of this kind of work on young people with no health complaints.”

Dratz said, as far as he knows, the Noricks are also the first researchers to use two dose levels in the same experiments and to factor in their subjects’ body mass index.

“We plan to publish our study in a scientific journal with the help of Dr. Dratz,” said Colin Norick. “We aren’t sure what journal yet but we definitely plan to publish.”

Dratz and the Noricks worked with MSU's Institutional Research Board (IRB) in order to clear their classmates for participation in the research project. Their school nurse drew the blood samples and the brothers delivered them to MSU for help with the testing. The brothers worked with a Missoula neurologist to provide the computer testing that detected improvements in cognitive function and reaction times.

The Noricks had accumulated two months worth of data for the science fair project. They will continue their research to its six-month conclusion and continue to share results.

“This science could be helping lots of kids improve their brain function,” Dratz said.

BioScience Montana is funded by the National Institutes of Health as a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) granted to MSU Extended University, the 4-H Center for Youth Development, and the MSU Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience.

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Carrie Benke, (406) 994-4351,