The Intel ISEF Files – Intel ISEF winner Amanda Jones

The Intel ISEF Files – Intel ISEF winner Amanda Jones – Brief Article

Project Category: Botany

Years at Intel ISEF: 1998, 1997, 1998

Most Recent Project Title Genetic Variation in Helianthus schweinitzii: A fifth-year study of the endangered sunflower

Current Status: Freshman, Wake Forest University

In 1994, when Amanda Jones read a newspaper article about the endangered Schweinitz’s sunflower, which only grows within a 90 mile radius of her home in North Carolina, she couldn’t have known that she’d become one of the flower’s best friends. Amanda spent the next five years studying the sunflower, which is threatened by habitat destruction and, indirectly, by fire suppression. She took three separate but related projects involving the plant to the Intel ISEF in 1996-1998.

Amanda began her research in the seventh grade by collecting soil samples at sites where the endangered sunflower grew. Her initial investigations revealed that, contrary to the newspaper report she’d read, Helianthus schweinitzii thrived in several soil types. She subsequently transplanted a number of sunflowers into her yard, conducted seed germination experiments, and monitored growth patterns. In her third year she continued monitoring over 100 plants and collected morphological data which proved that the plant could grow, bloom, and reproduce in red clay soil without human interference. She documented these findings in her first Intel ISEF project in 1996.

Describing her experiences at the fair Amanda recalls, “I was really inspired by the other students and their research, and it was their projects, plus the input of students and judges who really wanted to help me, that inspired me to make my research more sophisticated each year.”

That sophistication next took the form of a cytogenetic analysis, which determined the sunflower’s somatic cell chromosome number by using a standard root squash method and chromosome staining technique. From these tests, Amanda was surprised to learn that several of her backyard sunflowers might have surreptitiously cross-pollinated with another species of sunflower. In the final year of her work, she employed a random amplified polymorphic DNA technique to determine the amount of genetic variation within her garden. She concluded, “The evidence of genetic variation between successive generations of my backyard population offers a positive long-term outlook for the species.”

Researchers at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, are currently using Amanda’s data to help protect Helianthus schweinitzii. Her research is also featured on a new website posted by Conservation International and Intel for high school students pursuing research on biodiversity and conservation. The website (www.conservation.org/investigate/threats) links students to CI conservation scientists who are actively engaged in research in more than 23 countries throughout the tropics.

Amanda won several awards at Intel ISEF, including a Second Place in the Botany category and special awards from Indiana University and the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently studying liberal arts, shooting photos for the Wake Forest newspaper, and giving campus tours. It’s not known whether any sunflowers adorn her room.

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