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A little help from their friends.

Erica Salaman didn't have access to technical information of how thiamin affects plants. Although she combed local universities and companies, the precocious eight grader felt her inquires had fallen on deaf ears.

"Finally I contacted ARS' Eastern REgional Research Center in Philadelphia and they suggested I talk with Dr. Nagahashi," Erica says of George Nagahashi, a chemist at the center's Plant Soil Biophysics Research Unit. "He gave me some hints and mailed some articles on thiamine and its relationship with plants."

Today Erica, a senior at Philadelphia's George Washington High School, works part-time at the Philadelphia center, where she is tracing the movement of vitamins through plants.

The Philadelphia high school student is one of 19 area students recently honored by the center who chose agriculture-related science projects for the Delaware Valley Science Fairs. The annual event is held at Pennsylvania State University's Ogontz campus.

The science fair attracted more than 700 projects from students in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware. Last year was the inaugural year of a program initiated by the Philadelphia center designed to stimulate student interest in agriculture-related sciences.

In fact, six researchers rom the Philadelphia center volunteered to judge projects at the regional science fair. One of those judges - chemist Michael H. Tunick - recommended the program honoring the students to the center's director, John P. Cherry.

"I was wondering what I could do to help students along in the field of science," tunick recalls.

Cherry was receptive to Tunick's idea. "We are science," Cherry told the students at last year's ceremony, "and we're facing a dilemma: Where are we going to get our future scientists?

"There is a career in science, and that career can be with the Agricultural Research Service," he added. "I'm hoping that many of you might grow up and come to work for us. We have to solve problems to make the ways in American life better. ARS is more than plants and animals. We're into projects like food safety and product development."

For example, scientists at the Philadelphia center developed instant potato flakes, made phosphate-free laundry detergents from tallow (beef or sheep fat), and evaluated ways of enhancing the aroma of jellies, fruit drinks, candies, and frozen desserts. ARS research has also helped improve the environment and develop alternative fuels.

"How many of you in here today are wearing leather shoes?" he asked. As a number of hands rose in acknowledgment, Cherry explained how research from the Philadelphia center was responsible for the flexible qualities in leather shoes and clothing.

Chris Dominello, a senior at Bishop McDevitt High School in suburban Philadelphia, says that he hadn't realized that his science project on nonchemical attractants for fruit flies was related to agriculture until he toured the 375,000-square-foot facility.

"I thought I was going to see cows and farms and not anything that was really high tech," he says. "It was a great opportunity to see what agriculture is really like."

Most students were in agreement on the basic importance of agricultural research.

"Agriculture is the basis for everything in life," says Andrew Shieh, a 10th grader at Upper Dublin High School in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. You can't do anything else in life without food."

And one student, Sharon O'Brien of Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster, Pennsylvania, already has her sights on a career in agricultural science because "it is something that will never be outdated." Sharon's project tracked the pH level in milk as its temperature changes.

The program also gave Cherry an opportunity to explain to students how the Philadelphia center can assist in furthering their science education, either in high school or in college, through its summer or part-time job programs.

As for former eighth grader, Erica Salaman, she views her current part-time job at the Plant Soil and Biophysics Research Unit as an investment in her education. She thinks that learning to use analytic equipment and interacting with ARS scientists will give her an advantage when she heads for college next year.

"Working here is a job, but my paycheck isn't my only gain," she says. "I'll hopefully publish once or twice before I go to college."
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Title Annotation:Agricultural Research Service's educational program for science students
Author:Kinzel, Bruce
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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