Margaret Slein to be first-ever AWHS student to participate in international science fair

Archbishop Williams High School senior Margaret “Maggie” Slein of Scituate will be the first-ever student in the history of the school to compete in an international science fair, the Intel ISEF (International Science and Engineering Fair), which will be held May 14-19, in Los Angeles.

Margaret’s selection for the fair followed her high scoring at the 59th Annual South Shore Regional Science Fair May 11, at Bridgewater State University, where she earned a 1st Place award, a $100 cash prize, and the prestigious and highly competitive Wilma M. Shields ISEF award.

The 1st Place award allows Slein to advance to the Mass. State Science and Engineering Fair May 5-6, at the Mass. Institute of Technology: The Shields award allows her to advance directly to the Intel ISEF competition.  

“I am really excited and shocked that I was chosen to move forward to the international fair,” Margaret said. “There were a lot of enviromental science projects and the research I did was complex, but I think my presentation and my presentation skills gave me an overall advantage.”

Margaret’s project, The Study of Hemigrapsus Sanguineous: Population Density and Genetic Variation, is a year-long study of Asian shore crabs - an invasive species - and their impact on native species. She collected samples from beaches in Scituate and Quincy, and with the assistance of Ann Evankow, Collections Associate of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center of New England, Northeastern University Marine Center, Nahant, analyzed their DNA variations.

“We don't usually work with high school students, but most high school students aren't like Maggie,” Evankow said.  “Maggie was willing to give up her vacation to work on an independent project she feels is important. She knew it would be challenging to complete this project before the science fair, but instead of giving up, she worked harder. Although many of the procedures were new to her, she did her best to learn as much as she could and complete as much as possible on her own. It is a pleasure to work with someone who cares so much about her project. I believe she could accomplish anything at this point, given enough time.”

The project was made possible when Margaret won a highly competitive $6,000 grant from the Marjot Foundation, Woods Hole, Falmouth, Mass. The grant helps to pay for DNA testing and supplies, and is partially shared by her mentor, Archbishop Williams High School Science Department Chair Raymond Whitehouse who works closely with Margaret on all facets of the project, helped her write the grant, and made the connection to the Northeastern lab for her.

“Maggie personifies the ideal science student - full of questions, persistent, and open-minded,” Whitehouse said. “I can’t tell you how difficult this is to do, to succeed at this level. I can’t tell you what an honor this is for Maggie, our Department, and our school.”

The South Shore Regional Fair, Region 5, included 143 students from 24 high schools from southeastern Massachusetts and from Boston private and Catholic schools who together presented 127 individual and team research projects. The top 40 of those students advance to the Mass. state fair. Meanwhile, the regional fair committee sends two students to Intel ISEF where they will compete against approximately 1800 students from 75 countries.

According to its website, Intel ISEF is a program of the Society for Science & the Public, the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, which provides the opportunity for millions of students worldwide to compete at the local, state, and finally at the international level at Intel ISEF. The organization “unites these top young scientific minds, showcasing their talents on an international stage, where doctoral level scientists review and judge their work.”  The Society and Intel, joined by dozens of corporate, academic, government and science-focused sponsors, provide support and up to $4 million in awards at Intel ISEF.

While Margaret prepares for the state and international fairs, she is also preparing for a separate fair March 24, at the highly selective Southern New England Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) at Boston University.

"Maggie is an incredibly passionate, dedicated student,” said Archbishop Williams High School Principal Michael Volonnino. “We are so proud of her and our faculty for their pursuit of excellence in an area that will make a meaningful contribution to society. She is doing truly important work and we can't wait to show it off on the international stage."