Iolani student nabsCuriosity about fruit flies and papayas led an 11-year-old Hawaii student into the top ranks of America's brightest young scientists.
prize with flies
Cara Chang's project on fruit
flies wins her a dream science trip
By Helen Altonn
Cara Alexis Chang, 11, of Iolani School, won a "Dream Science Trip" as a finalist in the annual Discovery Young Scientist Challenge in Washington, D.C.
Her project, done last year as a St. Andrew's Priory sixth-grader, was titled, "Do Oriental Fruit Flies Have a Preference Between Genetically-modified and Organically-grown Papayas?"
She was one of more than 1,700 middle-school students who entered the competition from 42 states, one of 400 semifinalists and one of 40 finalists.
Other Hawaii semifinalists were Yuko Hara and Amber Kuitunen, both from St. Andrew's Priory; Ryan McGinnis of Iao School; Kimberly Reinhold from St. Joseph Junior Senior High and Ihilani Haru of Ben Parker Elementary.
Chang was one of 13 finalists winning special prizes. She plans to use her Travel Channel award to go to Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, probably in the summer.
She chose that university to study stem cell research. "I thought it was kind of cool because of how embryos can make new body parts for (people affected by) diseases such as Parkinson's."
She was nominated for the national competition because of her entry in this year's Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair.
Her parents, Kelvin and Joyce Chang of Kaneohe, and brother Grant, a fourth grader, went with her to Washington, D.C.
"We were so happy that she got something on the state level," her father said. "We thought this was it. Then she became a national finalist."
Until the final competition, he said, "We didn't realize her accomplishment ... It's a wonderful program. It gives kids exposure at that age."
That was the goal when the Discovery Young Scientist Challenge began in 1999 to address America's lagging achievement in math and science and encourage students to go into those fields.
Parents were contacted a week before the final competition and asked if they wanted to cancel because of the terrorism, Kelvin Chang said. "The overwhelming response from all the parents was to have it continue."
Cara's science teacher at the Priory was Jay Hamura and her mentor for the project was Lyle Wong, Plant Industry Division administrator, state Department of Agriculture.
"My first idea for my project was to do genetics, and genetically modified foods and fruits," she said. She became interested in the papaya industry's economic problems because of fruit fly infestations and contacted Wong.
"He set me up with some fruit flies and he helped me a lot with my project, getting me cages and telling me which products were organic and which were genetically modified ones."
She bought two organically grown papayas and one genetically modified and placed each variety in a cage with an Oriental fruit fly.
She watched as eggs laid in the papayas eventually became pupae and was surprised to find the largest number of pupae living in and near the decaying genetically modified papaya.
Her conclusion: Oriental fruit flies prefer genetically modified papaya.
Her next project, she said, is "to figure out if the fruit flies that emerge from the pupae were mutated or something like that."
She wants to be a doctor but also has many other interests. She reads, plays softball and basketball, plays the clarinet in the Iolani School Band and is a 4-H Club member.