Local youth wins third at state science fair

Local youth wins third at state science fairBy JEANETTE FRANCIS

News Review Correspondent

Trevor Frisbee, a seventh-grader at Murray Middle School, won third place in his category at the State Science Fair April 29. Trevor commented that when he won his award “It was actually pretty surprising because there were so many projects and very smart kids there.”

The state fair was held at the California Science Center in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park. According to Trevor, more than 1,000 students in middle and high school competed with 900 projects judged by more than 400 judges. Trevor studied cystic fibrosis for his project, classed in the pharmacology category, in which there were 35 projects. He was also awarded $75. “They had nine judges in a four-hour period, and they were very nice and asked lots of questions and it was just a lot of fun,” he said.

He discussed what he liked most about being at the science fair —“Just seeing all the projects and actually being in the science center and right next door to the space shuttle, Endeavor, and meeting other smart kids.

“The county and state fairs had really good speakers that were very interesting. They talked about science and careers in science.”

Trevor chose his project because his sisters have cystic fibrosis, “a genetic disease that causes very viscous mucus in their lungs,” he said. “I wanted to come up with a way to decrease the viscosity of the mucus.

“With normal people there are goblet cells that produce mucin, and we have a CFTR gene that makes a protein channel that brings bicarbonate into mucin. When mucin and bicarbonate come together, it expands into mucus at 1,000 times the original size of the mucin into a big net which traps bacteria and all the bad stuff that gets into lungs so the cilia can move it up so we can swallow it or spit it out so we don’t have infections.”

Trevor explained that in CF “you don’t have the protein so there is no bicarbonate to come together with the mucin to expand into mucus and so it creates very thick or viscous mucin on the lungs. It builds up on the cilia so that they can’t work right, so bacteria and infections come in and wear down the lungs and cause problems.”

Trevor contacted Dr. Paul Quinton, a researcher at the University of California San Diego who specializes in the study of CF and also has the disease. Quinton gave Frisbee the idea to use baking soda to decrease mucus viscosity. “He procured cow mucous from a Bakersfield farmer because Quinton said the viscosity was similar to the mucous in CF.

“I tested it using a viscometer and added a u-shaped manometer that measures the flow rate of liquid at different pressures, very similar to viscosity,” Frisbee said. He constructed both the viscometer and the manometer. He made various tests and determined that the bicarbonate is the “impact factor” to decrease mucus viscosity rather than the sodium component.

There is no cure for CF, according to Frisbee. His sisters “have to do lots of treatments and have lots of lung infections and have to go into the hospital occasionally,” he said. They have treatment for an hour every morning and night during which they wear a vest and “try to break up the mucous in their lungs.”

The sisters also use nebulizers that disperse liquid medication into particles they can breathe in.” The CF causes pancreas problems, so Frisbee’s sisters take enzymes so they can digest fat soluble foods and vitamins, and antibiotics keep lung infections at bay, according to Eric Frisbee, Frisbee’s father.

Frisbee’s father explained that Frisbee’s sisters use a bronchial dilator and mucolytic pulmozine, which is designed to do the same thing as bicarbonate but is very expensive. He said, “It would be a neat thing if they could replace with bicarbonate,” as it would be far less expensive.

Frisbee stated that the most interesting part of the process of creating his project was “was seeing how much of a big impact the sodium bicarbonate had.” He added, “I had a lot of fun building the viscometer and the board.”

Frisbee received support from his family while constructing his project. He said “My dad helped me with the project with the power tools and making some of the graphs for the board. And my sisters helped a little bit.”

He discussed his plans for next year’s science fair, saying he will “probably build upon” this year’s project. He reflected on his plans for a career, saying he will “most likely be a doctor or maybe an engineer.”

According to his father, Frisbee has “always had a passion” for science and math.” He commented, “We’re very proud of him,” adding that Frisbee he has been “driven by passion” to understand CF and help his sisters “ever since he was little. When he was younger he would read stories to them and help them. He is passionate kid.”

Seventh-grader Trevor Frisbee stands in front of the California Science Center — site of the State Science Fair.

Photo courtesy of Eric Frisbee

Story First Published: 2014-05-14