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La Porte J.H. student combines cooking, chemistry to win state science fair

With a combination of some H20 with Fe, Al and Teflon (water and steel, aluminum and non-stick cookware) Adnane, a La Porte Jr. High School eighth-grader, took home the top chemistry prize at the Texas Science and Engineering Fair, held in late March in San Antonio. She also put in a few hundred hours of research.

Her goal: to determine the amount of fluoride that might be unknowingly ingested with our meals. Specifically, she set out to learn how chemical reactions in cooking pots would affect the amount of fluoride remaining in the water.

“Flouride is a controversial issue because of the health risks associated with it,” Sara said. “We think about it in our toothpaste, it’s also added to the water supply in some places. We boil water almost daily to cook pasta, for example.”

How many other junior high students think like this?

“We’ve had some really good projects through the years, and we’ve competed (at state) for four years,” said Shawn Oliphint, Sara’s science teacher. “We’ve never placed there or had a winner. Sara is very focused.”

The judges in San Antonio, in their feedback to Sara, suggested that if she were to expand on her project, she would have something worthy of national competition in high school. (Junior high students cannot compete at the national level.)

“They were impressed and said they had not seen a project like this before,” Sara said.

To qualify for state, she first had to compete at the campus-level competition, and then at the Science and Engineering Fair of Houston, in which she placed first. Combined, there were thousands of other young scientists and engineers vying for the top prize in their respective categories.

Sara, by the way, didn’t just come up with her scientific question over a bowl of macaroni. She pretty much knew what she wanted to study this time last year – just after her first science competition at the statewide level. Moreover, she worked on it throughout the summer and into the 2017-18 scho0l year.

For fun, Sara enjoys reading academic journals and texts on astrophysics and medicine. And she’s capable of reading those texts in English and Arabic. Seriously.

“Everyone else, when they were five, wanted to be a police officer or astronaut,” she said, laughing. “I wanted to be a chemical engineer and doctor.”

She comes by it naturally though, as her father is a chemical engineer and her mom works in the medical field, having attended medical school herself. She credits them and her teacher for her accolades.

“I’m thankful for Mrs. Oliphint and my parents, because if not for them, I don’t think I could have made it this far.”

Sara also participates in track and cross country, swimming and volleyball, and plays violin in the La Porte Junior High School Orchestra. UIL music judges awarded her a First Division in 2016-17 for her violin solo, but she could not compete this year because it conflicted with the science fair, she said.

To the question about her future beyond La Porte Jr. High and High School, Sara would like to don the crimson of Harvard University in her quest to become a trauma doctor.

It appears she has the formula to do that too.

Click here to view a Houston Chronicle feature story about Sara's science accolades.