Fairland student takes science fair project to international academy

Published 9:55 am Wednesday, February 24, 2010

ROME TOWNSHIP — Water. It’s the stuff that we’re made out of the most. What we take in to quench a thirst and what we wash with, bath in, swim in.

So it was discovering the relative cleanliness of the water that surrounds Lawrence County that captured the imagination of Fairland High junior Robert Hinshaw.

What he found was that the streams and creeks in his home county are more victims of pollution than the Ohio River that they flow into.

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That research, which came out of his work on a freshman year science fair project, netted him a chance to present his findings to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an international non-profit focusing on promoting science, — and a trip out to the West Coast.

There the Fairland junior was the only student from Lawrence County at the conference joining other student-scientists, from 28 states.

He gave his presentation before his peers and a cadre of professionals, including Dr. Francis Collins, the physician-geneticist who was the director of the Human Genome Project.

“I wanted to see if the tributaries added to the pollution concentration of the river,” he said. “I found that the tributaries are much more polluted than the river. … It’s the septic tank overflow and people who dump into the streams.”

Throughout the fall of 2007, Hinshaw took samples of water from the Ohio, the Swan, Indian Guyan, Symmes, Guyandotte, Seven-Mile and Guyan creeks, sampling three tributaries each from the Ohio and West Virginia sides.

He tested the water samples for a variety of parameters, including the amount of E. coli found in the river and streams.

“The E. coli was the big kicker,” he said on what was one of the major reasons for the increased pollution in the streams.

Last week Hinshaw, 16, flew to San Diego to present his research to the AAAS, where he was named an honorary fellow of the American Junior Academy of Science.

“It was broadening,” Hinshaw said about the two-day event. “I learned there is a lot I don’t know still.”

He also discovered the stereotype of the one-sided scientist was false.

“All of these kids you would think of them as science geeks or nerds,” he said. “They were normal.”