Young Naturalist Awards 2003

Article excerpt


Scientific discovery begins with expeditions.

Over the past 134 years, American Museum of Natural History scientists have mounted thousands of expeditions to observe, gather, and analyze data to further our understanding of the natural world and human culture. Now in its sixth year, the Museum's National Center for Science Literacy, Education and Technology's Young Naturalist Awards program challenges students in grades 7 through 12 to embark on their own scientific expeditions, exploring and reporting on a question in biology, Earth science, or astronomy.

These expeditions need not involve specialized equipment or travel to distant lands. Science can begin with a keen eye and a backyard. From a park in Brooklyn to the rain forest of Hawaii, from a home aquarium to the coastal waters of Nova Scotia, this year's Young Naturalists met their challenge with a passion for inquiry, a recognition of the interdependence of life, and a concern for the human impact on the environment.

The winning entries (chosen from nearly 800) are summarized here. To read the complete essays on the Museum's Web site, which also features a brief profile of and interview with each winner, visit youngnaturalistawards.

Entries are already being accepted for the 2004 Young Naturalist Awards and will continue to be accepted until January 9, 2004.

The Young Naturalist Awards are made possible by a generous grant from The J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation.

Oscawana: A Dying Lake?, by Sarah Beganskas (Woodland Middle School, East Meadow, New York; Grade 7)

While on vacation in upstate New York, Sarah decided to find out why the once crystal clear waters of Lake Oscawana were turning a murky green. Not only did she discover the causes of the lake's problems, she also discovered what local residents are doing to save the lake.

"I hope that the lake will improve so that my children and grandchildren can enjoy its beauty and recreational uses, as my great-grandfather envisioned. By doing this project, I have discovered more about the lake I have known and enjoyed my entire life."

Bobwhite Quail Decline in Texas, by Donald Capra (Branch and Leaf Academy Home School, Abilene, Texas; Grade 11)

Concerned that bobwhite quail might be on their way toward extinction, Donald volunteered for the Texas Quail Index. As a member of the TQI, Donald examined the factors that affect quail populations on his family's ranch. He conducted surveys which he hopes to use to develop a management plan that will help to reverse the trend in quail decline.

"Now that I have completed my first year of observations...I feel that I know our land better and the animals that live there, too....l am glad I can enjoy the early-morning call counts."

Aspen Island, by Elspeth Iralu (Home School, Gallup, New Mexico; Grade 10)

While hiking with her family, Elspeth came upon an aspen grove in a valley where aspens are scarce. Her investigation centered on the environmental characteristics that favored aspen growth in this location. She compared the aspen grove with a control area, examining factors such as elevation, humidity, and temperature.

"From where I stand, I can't see the emerging patterns in my life. I only remember moments and short seasons. But aspens look back 10,000 years and see what has changed. I am dwarfed by tall trees with long memories."

Exploring the Mystique of the Mushroom, by Yushan Kim (Athens High School, Troy, Michigan; Grade 12)

Yushan ventured into her backyard-rich in biological activity due to a large amount of decaying wood. Having never seen a mushroom there before, she was surprised when she found one cluster and then another. In her investigation, Yushan examined the connection between these organisms and their environment, generating informative illustrated charts, field sketches, and photographs. …