Delegates to American Junior Academy of Science

After evaluating research presentations, panels of scientists chose seven high school students to represent Kentucky at the 2023 American Junior Academy of Science  (AJAS) meeting in Washington D.C.  The students will have unforgettable experience while presenting their research and receiving feedback and encouragement from our national scientific leaders! Check out the bios below to learn more about these distinguished students!

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2023 Delegates:

Sierra Durkee

Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science

Research: "Identification of toxic bacteriophage gene products"

“Using what I have learned during my research I want to take it further into a career in pathology. My interests in the biological fields have really grown through my time, and I wish to pursue my knowledge through more research and lab time.” - Sierra Durkee

Video about Durkee's research:
Durkee plans to continue studying biology and pursue a medical pathway in pathology. During her time at the Gatton Academy, she has spent significant time completing supervised student research, participating in clubs and organizations such as the Kentucky Youth Association and Gatton Academy Medical Association, and serving as a Gatton Academy Community Developer.


Leah Groves

Bowling Green High School

Research: "Boundary Delineation of the Great Onyx Groundwater Basin, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky"
Click here to view research materials.

“My dad is a geologist at WKU, and his occupation has allowed me to grow up in a science environment. By first hand observations and studies since I was 4 years olds, it made me realize my admiration for the science field, which later facilitated in the research I completed alongside my dad and my colleagues.” - Leah Groves

Kathryn Harris

Bowling Green High School

Research: "Evaluating Methods for Underground River Discharge Measurements in Mammoth Cave National Park"
Click here to view research materials.
Video about Harris' research: AJAS research description - YouTube

"While conducting the research for my presentation, I enjoyed getting to do very hands-on data collection. Also, I learned a great deal about environmental science and geology. This will assist me in deciding what aspects of science I’m interested in as I choose a specific field of science to study in the future because I will have already been exposed to two areas of science."  - Kathryn Harris                       

Justin Huang

duPont Manual High School

Research: "Predicting Omicron COVID-19 Positivity Using Breath Samples"

“Before the pandemic, I had always been interested in science, but I had never taken the time to explore it deeper. However, when I began to see the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, I wanted to help in any way I could. I knew that there was an issue with the Covid-19 tests being given at the time. They were expensive, uncomfortable, and problematic. This was the spark that ignited a future of research for an accurate, portable, and quick Covid-19 test using breath analysis that would limit the spread of the rapidly increasing threat of Covid-19. This spark still lives on today and I’m still working on this project to this day to help combat the pandemic.” - Justin Huang

Elek Olson

Bowling Green High School

Research: "In-Cave Groundwater Tracing in the Great Onyx Groundwater Basin, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky"

“Most of my research happened in the cave systems at Mammoth Cave, specifically Great Onyx Cave,” Olson said. “My research was on the internal waterways of the cave system. I learned how complicated cave research can be when we went to the Crawford Hydrology lab, at Western Kentucky University (WKU), to evaluate the data collected by the dye bags, with the dye bags being able to detect certain dyes at up to parts per trillion, it is very complex. I really enjoyed the fieldwork involved with the research project, and am very excited to be able to continue the partnership with WKU, Mammoth Cave National Park, and The Crawford Hydrology Lab.” - Elek Olson

Rishabh Ranjan

duPont Manual High School

Research: "Effect of PSAT1 Expression on Mitochondrial Function in EGFR Mutant Lung Cancer Cells"
Video about Rishabh's research: Rishabh Ranjan: Kentucky delegate to the National Junior Academy of Science - YouTube

“I’m sure my passion for science will lead me to continue and pursue higher-level research throughout college and my career. Eventually, I desire to combine the tools of biotechnology and biomarkers to enhance early diagnosis, screening, and treatment for disease. Moreover, I seek to involve myself with research that aims to intervene/prevent disease progression instead of palliative treatment. In the future, I see myself improving people’s lives through the ingenious application of research.” - Rishabh Ranjan


Joshua Zyzak

Beechwood High School

Research: "Novel Discovery Regarding the Aroma of Roasted Coffee"
Click here to review research materials.

“I learned how chemistry and biology come together to enable our sense of smell. The ability of odor molecules to bind to olfactory receptors and send signals to our brain is fascinating. In this work, I learned about the aroma of coffee and how one molecule, trimethylamine, can strongly influence the aroma of French Roasted coffee beans. I used a technique called solid phase microextraction - gas chromatography - mass spectrometry - olfactometry (SPME-GC-MS-O), which combines sensory and analytical techniques to identify the aroma important compounds in food products. This methodology is very insightful and was an exciting learning opportunity for me.” - Joshua Zyzak