Kenilworth student wins international science competition

Photo provided by Sherman Scott
Good News!
Saturday, May 17, 2014 - 1:14pm

There is a world-renowned scientist living in Baton Rouge. But he does not work for LSU or Southern.

No, he just finished middle school this week.

Jalen Scott is celebrating a grand prize victory at an international science competition, for which he was the only American even nominated.

"I just wanted to do a better science project than I did in 6th grade," Jalen explained of his initial goal. He was not pleased with the volcano he made the year before. "I didn't even make it to the school science fair."

For a 7th grade project, Jalen teamed with another student and with LSU professor David Weindorf and tested for lead levels at local public schools. Lead-based paint was banned in 1978, but lots of our schools are older than that.

"So most likely, schools built before that date have higher levels of lead, rather than schools closer to or after the ban," he stated.

And he was right. Of the eleven schools he examined in November 2012, four had levels of lead above the EPA's acceptable limit. Lead, when ingested by children, has been shown to lead to higher rates of behavioral and developmental problems.

Jalen had high hopes for his project: "um, an A."

He got his A. He also got published in a major journal, then picked to compete in the Golden Climate International Environmental Olympiad in Kenya earlier this month.

"When me and my dad found out, we were so excited," Jalen recalled. "I think he, he said he was more excited than I was. But I was really excited. Never been to Africa. It was on my bucket list, and I always wanted to go to Africa."

He and his father spent a week in Kenya for the event. All of the competitors had projects in which they either studied the environment, or invented something with environmental benefits.

"I made a few friends," Jalen said, "one from Kenya, and one from Afghanistan."

When the medalists were announced, Jalen did not hear his name. He did not know his moment was yet to come.

"I was not prepared," he stated. "Especially since they said the grand winners at the end. They said the bronze, the silver, and the gold; I thought I didn't win anything.

"So I just sat in my chair, and when they called my name, I had to take a double-take to see if they said my name or not. So I got up, and my dad and my teacher were recording and taking pictures, and he had left his book sack by me, and his jacket. I stepped on everything on the row, I stepped on everybody in the row. I almost fell going up the stairs. Just, like my legs, my legs were just moving everywhere. I was nervous. I almost went to the podium and gave a speech before I accepted the award. I just didn't know what to do."

Jalen just finished up his 8th grade year at Kenilworth. He has a world of possibilities ahead of him, but he warns not to expect another project quite like this one.

"I can try to get something bigger than this," he said. "I don't think the next thing I'm going to do is going to even come close, even going to come close to this."

But he never thought his soil project would get this big, either.

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