Novel ideas: A-level student Charlotte Day
An A-level student who worked out a novel way of tagging sea urchins while on placement at the University of Portsmouth has been named Young Scientist of the Year at a regional science and engineering fair.
Charlotte Day, 18, who attends St Anne’s Sixth Form, Southampton, won the Gatwick Airport South East Young Scientist of the Year Award at the Big Bang Fair South East. She will now compete in the Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Engineers Competition next March.
Charlotte’s winning project, Comparison of the grazing rates of Psammechinus miliaris, Littorina littorea and Gibbulla umbilicalis, compared the grazing rates of sea urchins, common periwinkles and topshells and their effect on the marine environment.
It was described by judges at the Big Bang Fair South East as “quite complex experimentation underpinned by sound academic research”, and “a project that has clear outcomes that have value and meaning”.
Charlotte worked on a Nuffield Research Placement with Dr Gordon Watson at the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Portsmouth.
She said: “I had no idea what to expect on the placement as it was the first time I had done anything like this.
“Dr Watson and I agreed that I would be able to carry out an experiment that would compare the grazing rates of sea urchins, periwinkles and top shells. I wasn’t highly thrilled with the animals that I was given to work with, as I was looking for something more ‘adventurous’ than sea snails – but that soon changed.
“Over the weeks, I cared for my animals and checked that they were all accounted for; the gastropods (snails) had a habit of wandering off. I did this by tagging each one with its own bee tag (numbered and coloured small disk). This worked perfectly fine for the snails but not for the sea urchins.
“This presented itself as a problem that needed to be fixed in a way that would mean I knew which sea urchin was which and not harm the animal.
“I came up with a rather creative approach of using nail polish on their spines and it worked, as well as meaning I had a tank full of ‘punk rock’ looking sea urchins.”
To compare their grazing rates, Charlotte impregnated disks with freshly collected algae and left them to dry. Once dry, she put the disks into individual beakers submerged in a seawater tank. One animal was put in each beaker, the beaker was covered by plankton netting, and they’d be left for 24 hours. She measured the amount each individual ate by photographing the white algae-enriched discs on a black background and then calculating the number of white to black pixels, and thus the amount eaten.
Charlotte said: “Working in the university labs and being treated like a university student made my confidence in myself grow and showed me that I could stride out on my own to face new challenges.”
Charlotte will receive her results of her A-level exams on August 18.
The sixth annual Big Bang Fair South East and the regional Young Scientists and Young Engineers Competition were organised by STEM Sussex, the outreach support department of the University of Brighton. The 2018 event will take place at the South of England Showground on June 27.