The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

Ava Milliken

July 11, 2020

Joining ASI was almost a no-brainer for Class of 2020 graduate Ava Milliken. Her older sister had taken the class a couple of years earlier, and Ava herself had previously done research on climate change at the University of California, Santa Barbara and research on air pollution at Stanford.

Ava’s research in ASI focused on bioremediation, the process of using living organisms to break down pollutants in the environment.

“I had done AP Biology and AP Environmental Science during my junior year,” Ava said. “I was really interested in those two fields of science and researching bioremediation was the perfect intersection of my interests.”

Bioremediation is the process of clearing polluted sites by introducing microorganisms that can break down the environmental pollutants in that designated environment. Through her research, Ava observed the rate at which the bacteria, or microorganisms, break down different types of pollutants to see which interaction was the most effective. Her research materials included polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a common class of pollutants, and Micrococcus luteus, a single bacteria that could potentially degrade that pollutant.

Despite nearly a school year’s worth of research, Ava, unlike her peers, was unable to present at the science conference during ASI’s trip to England early in the spring due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I was the only student who decided to pull out of the trip because of the virus,” Ava said. “I didn’t get to present my research at Tonbridge, a boarding school in London, and I was really looking forward to presenting there.”

Unfortunately, Ava also felt the effects of the school’s closure on her research process. She was unable to finish her trials and was initially planning on starting a whole new round of data collection that was ultimately never produced.

“It is kind of a bummer that we got all the way to the finish line and nobody got to fully execute everything they wanted to do,” Ava said.

With the bulk of her research completed in class, Ava was able to prepare for her virtual presentation without major difficulty. The ASI Zoom presentations gave Ava the long-awaited opportunity to share her research with her classmates; it was also a chance for her to see what her classmates had prepared.

“I’ve actually had a great time listening to other people’s presentations,” Ava said. “I hope to have a similar engaging effect on my classmates by introducing them to the potential advances that could be made in this field through projects like mine.”

Despite endless challenges, ASI helped Ava build on her past research experience and has prepared her for more advanced future research projects.

“ASI confirmed my passion for environmental science,” Ava said. “It’s also taught me a lot about self-motivation and putting in the time to follow through on work that no one is holding you accountable for.”

Ava will be attending Tulane’s Honors College in the fall and currently looks to major in environmental studies and minor in business.

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