Montana State University

Teens in MSU outreach project head for international science fair

May 9, 2014 -- MSU News Service

Two high school students, Colin Norick, 15, and Colter Norick, 16, from Columbia Falls who participated in Montana State University’s youth outreach program BioScience Montana will be in Los Angeles this week to present their research project at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. The brothers won the grand prize at the 2014 Montana State Science Fair, which was held at the University of Montana this spring.   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN – Two brothers from Columbia Falls who participated in Montana State University’s youth outreach program BioScience Montana will be in Los Angeles this week to present their research project at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

The two high school students, Colin Norick, 15, and Colter Norick, 16, developed their BioScience Montana research project, “The Correlation between Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) Levels and Cognitive Function in Healthy Teens,” after learning about the importance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from Edward Dratz, MSU professor of chemistry and biochemistry. The Noricks chose to research the effectiveness of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid believed to improve brain function in people on typical diets.

With its focus specifically on teens, the Noricks’ study took a number of original approaches, Dratz said. The Noricks won numerous awards for their project at the 2014 Montana State Science Fair held at the University of Montana this spring, 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 success in Missoula won them an all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles to enter it in the international competition, which runs May 11-16.

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

Dratz added that, as far as he knows, the Noricks are also the first researchers to use two different dose levels in the same experiments and to factor in body mass index (BMI).

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 the placebo; however, the double dose did not produce superior results to the standard dose.

Noricks said they are hoping to spread the word about what they found.

“We plan to publish our study in a scientific journal with the help of Dr. Dratz,” Colin Norick said.

The possibility to publish isn’t far fetched according to Dratz, who said the teen's research goes beyond just a science fair project.

“This science could be helping lots of kids improve their brain function,” said Dratz, whose research is focused on metabolic processes.

Dratz and the Noricks worked with MSU's Institutional Research Board (IRB) in order to clear their classmates for participation. 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.

The BioScience Montana program is an intensive, eight-month experience through which 4-H members from around Montana 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, and then are encouraged to undertake a project of their own design. 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.

For more information, visit http://eu.montana.edu/bioscience.

Contact: Carrie Benke, MSU, (406) 994-4351, carrie.benke@montana.edu