Cassandra Sweet and Olivia Ih

July 11, 2020

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Courtesy Cassandra Sweet and Olivia Ih

Class of 2020 graduates Cassandra Sweet and Olivia Ih researched how to use compounds within turmeric to treat inflammation in the brain related to Alzheimer’s disease.

Class of 2020 graduates Cassandra Sweet and Olivia Ih entered ASI knowing they would be a good fit as research partners. Both knew each other before joining the class and previously volunteered together with the STEAM Team club at LAHS. The seniors had little experience researching and wanted to get a taste of what it was like in a lab environment.

“We both knew that we didn’t want to do individual projects because neither of us had ever done scientific research before,” Olivia said. “We just gravitated toward each other.”

Although it was a given that the two would be working together, instead of conducting research the first few months of school, the seniors spent a significant chunk of the fall semester trying to nail down a topic.

Upon starting the class, one of their original ideas was to research peanut allergies. Because Olivia grew up with a peanut allergy, she had a personal connection with the topic. This connection sparked their interest for further research into treatments for the health condition.

Unfortunately, some of their planned procedures were too expensive. Even though the LAHS lab is relatively high tech, it does not have the facilities to conduct protein engineering, which would be required for their research.

Olivia recounts that earlier in the year, ASI’s teacher-adviser Darren Dressen gave them an old lab paper and suggested researching turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties. He also mentioned Alzheimer’s as a potential application of that research. With this new direction, their research became more chemically focused and more manageable with the resources available in their lab. Cassandra and Olivia settled on doing research using basic compounds within turmeric to treat inflammation in the brain that’s related to Alzheimer’s disease.

Even though they had decided on a research topic, time was not on their side.

“We didn’t get as far as we wanted to because we spent the first couple months of the school year just trying to figure out what we wanted to do,” Olivia said. “We didn’t get truly started on our product until Christmas break.”

The recent effects of COVID-19 cut their in-person research time even shorter, leaving Cassandra and Olivia racing to finish their work at home.

“Obviously ASI is very lab based for the majority of the projects, especially for ours, so we basically stopped everything,” Cassandra said.

Their research was ground to a halt, and their presentation plans changed as well. ASI presentations were originally set to occur in the cafeteria but had to become virtual.

“Information-wise, presenting online didn’t have a really big impact,” Cassandra said. “However, the in-class presentation is a lot more fun in person because we all hype each other up. It’s just a different vibe over Zoom.”

Even though ASI proved to be challenging, both seniors developed an interest in conducting their own future research.

“The process is so long that you need to find a project or topic that you’re super passionate about in order for the research to be something worth doing,” Olivia said.

Cassandra and Olivia will be roommates at the University of California, Irvine, the coming fall; Olivia is looking to major in computer science and Cassandra is going in as undeclared. Both are looking forward to having a friend on campus and to growing closer throughout their college experience.

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