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High school students awarded for addiction science research

May 20, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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An exploration of electronic “screen time” and sleep on mood, memory and learning was given the top Addiction Science Award at the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)—the world’s largest science competition for high school students. The awards are coordinated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, and Friends of NIDA, a coalition that supports NIDA’s mission.

First place was awarded to Zarin Ibnat Rahman, a high school junior at Brookings High School in Brookings, S.D., for her project, The At-Risk Maturing Brain: Effects of Stress Paradigms on Mood, Memory and Cognition in Adolescents and the Role of the Prefrontal Cortex. The 16 year-old hypothesized that excessive screen time with computers, phones and other electronic devices serves as a stressor ultimately affecting mood, academic performance and poor decision making. She asked 67 teens – divided into two groups – to take a series of tests measuring factors such as use of electronic devices, sleep patterns, anxiety, mood, and attention. She concluded that excessive screen time shapes adolescents’ sleep patterns, compromising academic success and emotional health.  Rahman noted that electronic devices are tools, and like tools, they can be used to build or destroy. She hopes teens will re-think the amount of time they spend on these devices after reading about her project.

“This young scientist identified important risk factors that can cause a teen to stumble on his or her way to adulthood,” said NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow. “By taking a comprehensive look at how the developing teenage brain responds to various stressors of modern teenage life, she was able to make the link between excessive use of electronic devices to sleep deprivation and its consequences.”

Second place went to two 17-year olds, Emory Morris Payne and Zohaib Majaz Moonis of the Bancroft School in Worcester, Mass. Their project, The Effect of Ethanol on Beta Cell Development in Zebrafish, made a unique link between alcohol exposure during fetal development and type 1 diabetes.

Winning third place was Alaina Nicole Sonksen from Camdenton High School in Camdenton, Mo., also an upcoming senior. Her project, Determining the Behavioral and Physiological Effects of Pentedrone-Based Bath Salts on Drosophila melangaster, looked at the effects of two versions of the drugs called “bath salts” on the common fruit fly.

The Friends of NIDA provides funding for the awards as part of its ongoing support of research into the causes, consequences, prevention and treatment of drug abuse and addiction.

“This year’s projects broke new ground in several ways,” said Dr. William Dewey, president and chair of the Executive Committee, Friends of NIDA, as well as the Louis S. and Ruth S. Harris Professor and Chair, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond.  “We saw our first look at bath salts by an Intel finalist; a possible new health consequence of alcohol use; and our top winner put a new spin on electronic devices and their link to decision making. We are incredibly proud of them all, and we know they will be contributing to addiction science for many years to come.”

This year, about 1,500 students from 70 countries, regions and territories participated in the Intel ISEF competition, coordinated by the Society for Science and the Public. Addiction Science Winners receive cash awards provided by Friends of NIDA, with a $2,500 scholarship for the first-place honoree. NIDA has developed a special section on its website, which includes other resources on addiction science, to highlight the winning projects and to help science fair entrants understand the criteria for the awards: The NIDA Science Fair Award for Addiction Science.

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