An independent day school serving grades K-12 | St. Paul, MN

Four SPA student-scientists compete in international science fair; Jack Hlavka ‘22 takes third place in Environmental Engineering category

At this year’s 2021 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), four SPA student-scientists—Jack Hlavka ‘22, Naci Konar-Steenberg ‘22, and the team of Levi Mellin ‘21 and Nikolas Liepins ‘21--were among the top student-scientists from high schools around the world to present their original research and compete for awards in twenty-one disciplinary categories in science and engineering.

ISEF is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition; for the last two years, the ISEF competition has been held virtually due to the pandemic. The four students developed their original research as part of SPA's Advanced Science Research seminar, and earned a spot at the ISEF finals through their exceptional performances at regional and state science fairs.

At last week’s ISEF awards ceremony, also held virtually, Jack Hlavka’s project, Treatment of Simulated Acid Mine Drainage with Desulfovibrio Desulfuricans, was awarded a third-place Grand Award in the Environmental Engineering category. The ISEF judging team includes university faculty and scientists, industrial engineers and scientists, representatives of private and federal research centers and agencies, medical researchers, and post-doctoral fellows. Hlavka’s award carries a prize of $1000 and puts him among the top high school scientists in the world.

Hlavka decided on his research topic with the help of Upper School science faculty member Karissa Baker, who teaches the ASR seminar. “Ms. Baker was helpful for narrowing down what I wanted to focus on, as well as helping me brainstorm solutions for the various problems I encountered,” says Hlavka, whose project required that he design and implement a process for growing bacteria in an environment without any oxygen. “She was also happy to help whenever my experiment required more than two hands!” Watch a video of Hlavka’s elevator speech describing his research.

Baker calls ISEF "a once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity: “Although the ISEF experience was virtual again this year, these students were still able to participate in presentations by internationally-known scientists and interact with judges who are at the top of their scientific fields,” Baker says. “Despite the challenges of the pandemic, I was glad for them to have this experience.”