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St. Vincent-St. Mary student earns top science prize

5/9/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Isabella Sparhawk heading to Phoenix for competition

St. Vincent-St. Mary High School (STVM) senior Isabella Sparhawk, at center, is shown with, from left, John White, her mentor and a chemist at APV Engineered Coatings; Mary Jo Chionchio, director of STVM’s UA/STEM Research Experience; Thomas Venarge, APV Engineered Coatings president; and STVM President Tom Carone.
Photo: Kathleen Folkerth
WEST AKRON — When the cover of her iPod shattered, Isabella Sparhawk was inspired.

The St. Vincent-St. Mary (STVM) High School senior, a West Akron resident, channeled her disappointment into resolve. As part of a school science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program, she set about exploring the creation of a shatter-resistant coating for personal electronic devices.

This year she took it a step further and worked to develop an antimicrobial coating to prevent the spread of germs on touch-screen devices for her science project. Her project led her to earn the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) Grand Prize at the Northeast Ohio Science and Engineering Fair in March.

The designation means she’s heading to the Intel ISEF in Phoenix May 12-17 for an all-expenses-paid trip where she has the chance to come home with the top $75,000 prize. The fair is the world’s largest international precollege science competition, with 1,500 students from 70 countries who will compete for a total of $3 million.

“It should be a great experience,” said Isabella, the daughter of Julie Flynn and Richard Sparhawk.

Isabella also earned a Gold Award at the Bridging Engineering, Science and Technology (BEST) Awards presented by The University of Akron (UA) and the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron (ABIA), where she also earned a summer internship at UA.

Mary Jo Chionchio, who directs STVM’s UA/STEM Research Experience, said Isabella will present her work at the Intel ISEF to judges who have all earned doctorate degrees in their fields.

Isabella credits a lot of her success to the partnership she has had with APV Engineered Coatings through the STVM program. Company President Thomas Venarge said the company was more than happy to work with students.

“This is about retaining our talent here in Ohio, and that’s what we want to do,” he said.

Isabella worked closely with APV chemist John White, who noted he was impressed with her ability to work independently. She said she spent about two hours in the lab after school twice a week on her project since September.

Isabella also worked with Wiley Youngs, director of the Center for Silver Therapeutics Research at UA, as she gathered data with bacteria.

Since developing her solution, which uses silvernano particles, she has applied for a patent. Venarge said if that comes through, the potential for the product is high.

“It would be a marketer’s dream,” he said.

Chionchio said Isabella is the second STVM student to earn the Intel ISEF Grand Prize. Nick Neill, from Stow, a current STVM senior, earned it last year.

She added the school has been heavily involved in presenting STEM-based curriculum to students to prepare them for the future.

“There are opportunities, especially in polymers, and Akron is the polymer capital of the world,” Chionchio said.

Isabella, who attended Spring Garden Waldorf School in Copley in her elementary school years, said she plans to attend Ohio University in the fall as a premedicine major.

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