DODEA student in Japan studies stressed-out flies, earns nearly $10,000 for college
Stars and Stripes May 5, 2023
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — A study about depression in stressed-out flies has won a high school student at this base south of Hiroshima nearly $10,000 in scholarship money.
Matthew C. Perry junior McKenzie Mitchell, 17, placed second at the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium at the regional and national levels. The symposium, held April 12-15 in Virginia Beach, Va., drew 227 competitors, according to its website.
She earned a $1,500 scholarship at the Pacific Region JSHS competition and a $8,000 scholarship at the national level.
Mitchell got the idea for her project — The Effects of Mechanical Stress on Male and Female D. melanogaster General Activity and Survivorship — in an AP Biology class.
“Depression can be studied in flies if they are exposed to uncontrollable vibration stress, in response to which flies’ brains and behaviors parallel depression,” she explained in a news release. “However, this has only been researched in male flies, so I investigated the differential impact of this procedure on female flies compared to males in terms of their walking activity and survivorship.”
Mitchell learned female flies were less affected than male flies by uncontrollable vibration stress.
“This initial finding is important because it demonstrates the continued need for research in this field, because there is a large gender-based disparity in diagnosis, treatment efficacy, and depression severity, and if gender differences are explored then treatments and diagnostic criteria may become more effective,” she said in the release.
The Navy hosted the symposium, which was administered by the National Science Teaching Association. The program encourages high school students to conduct original research in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and recognizes students for outstanding achievement.
Mitchell attributes her passion for science to her mother, Shannon, and father, Adam, who is a Department of Defense Education Activity science teacher at M.C. Perry.
“My parents have always encouraged me to pursue science growing up, and they encouraged me to join science fairs,” she told Stars and Stripes by phone Wednesday. “My dad, he loves things like bug collections, so he would always take me along. And so, I kind of started getting involved in research from a very young age.”
Mitchell hopes to one day have a career as a STEM researcher, with interests in molecular biology and genetics.
“I worked the absolute hardest I could, but I had no expectation of placing at all in such a tough and prestigious competition,” she said in the release. “Hard work isn’t always going to receive recognition, so I feel very fortunate to have my work validated with this reward.”