Science project goes international

Noah Glasgow partners with WHOI on environmental oceanography studies.

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"Noah Glasgow accepts his first place award at the Massachusetts Science and Engineering Fair." -Courtesy Amy Galvam

After winning a first-place award at the Massachusetts Science and Engineering Fair for his work concerning oceanic microbes and what happens when they are exposed to acidifying conditions in the ocean, Islander Noah Glasgow will head to Phoenix, Ariz., to compete at the international fair.

According to an email from his biology teacher at Falmouth Academy, Dr. Alison Ament, Noah, a 16-year-old sophomore, started his microbiology research in eighth grade, when he focused on answering questions he uncovered at Grey Barn Farm in Chilmark, which his family owns.

He worked in Ament’s lab studying microbes that grow on cheese, and experimenting to discourage growth of pathogens as the cheese developed.

For this project, he won one of two first-place awards at the Falmouth Academy Science and Engineering Fair.

Ament said in ninth grade, Noah, again in labs at Falmouth Academy, experimented on ways to keep creamery surfaces sterile during the cheesemaking process. His ninth grade work, now eligible to go on to the advanced high school competitions, earned a first-place award at the South Shore Regional Science Fair, and a second-place award at the Massachusetts Science and Engineering Fair.

In 10th grade, Noah was accepted into the lab of Dr. Mak Saito at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). That was when his studies on oceanic microbes began, and haven’t stopped since.

Ament said Noah has come a long way since experimenting with creamery bacteria, and it is because of his hard work and assiduous nature that he has accomplished so much.

“Noah began with little knowledge about microbes in the ocean, despite his previous work with creamery bacteria,” Ament said. “He learned an enormous amount about the species he worked with, and about the metabolic processes that might be affected by increasing acidity. “

For Ament, witnessing the change Noah underwent, from knowing little about oceanic microbes to becoming a “true expert on the question,” was an “amazing” experience.

“It was amazing to watch his understanding and ideas come into focus,” Ament said. “Characteristics of his personality that have helped him all the way through his microbiology projects include his interest in being thorough and putting in a huge amount of time to be sure he has really figured things out.”

Ament quoted Falmouth Academy science department chair Jill Reves, who said, “Noah sincerely wants to know, to reach a complete understanding.”

Next year, Noah will continue to work in the area of environmental oceanography, this time in the lab of Dr. Virginia Edgcomb at WHOI, Ament said. This work will be supported by a grant Noah won from the Marjot Foundation, which offers competitive grant opportunities in environmental science to high school students from all over New England and New York.

Dr. Mak Saito said Noah was “very enthusiastic and fun to work with.” He said he was pleased to see Noah’s hard work do so well in the science fair, and is excited to see what the next chapter, in Edgcomb’s geophysics lab, holds for him.

One thing Saito said is interesting when working with high school students is how they adapt to doing more hands-on research in a professional setting where things aren’t scripted or controlled.

“Things don’t always go according to plan all the time, so it’s nice to see students having to navigate around problems that arise — it gives them very good critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” Saito said.

Noah said he has always been the “dinosaur, space-loving kid,” but didn’t realize his passion for science until arriving at Falmouth Academy. There, he found friends and mentors who helped foster his love for knowledge and discovery.

Once he started his biology research during his freshman year of high school, Noah became interested in climate change, and wanted to find ways to apply his passion to a professional study.

He wrote Dr. Saito a proposal outlining his research, and Saito responded saying he would love to have Noah in the lab.

Being in a professional lab instead of a classroom or school lab was a new and exciting opportunity for Noah. But he said the greatest disparity between the WHOI lab and the Falmouth Academy lab is that in the WHOI lab, things sometimes go awry, and it’s up to him to figure out what went wrong and fix it.

“A lot of the time, things happen that you aren’t prepared for. You just need to take every situation and make it a learning experience,” Noah said.

He also expressed the immense level of emotional investment he felt toward his work at WHOI. “The research that I did at WHOI was very gratifying because it really felt like my own. I had to take responsibility for my successes and my failures,” Noah said. “Overall it was just an incredibly unique experience.”

On Saturday, Noah will leave for Phoenix, where he will present his refined work on ocean acidification alongside 1,800 other students from 75 different countries.

“I am very excited to be around students that are just as passionate for science as I am,” Noah said.

In the future, Noah said, he will continue to study science, and hopes to someday find that “aha” moment that will change the world for the better.

“Sometimes, when you are a scientist, you get lost in the rabbit hole, and are just thinking, ‘Knowledge for knowledge’s sake,’” Noah said. “But I want to stumble across a piece of knowledge or understanding that can really make a huge difference — I think deep down that is every scientist’s dream.”