When Emily Roberts and Nina Varvatsas take on a project there is no stopping the Huntington High School sophomore duo. The pair is studying the effects of popular herbicide Atrazine on the behavior of Uca Pugnax, more commonly known as Atlantic marsh fiddler crabs.
Atrazine is a proven endocrine system disruptor. “We read a study by TB Hayes that proved that up to 25 parts per billion of atrazine caused male frogs to develop ovaries in their testes,” states the Huntington duo’s project abstract. “Our study is testing how fiddler crabs behave when Atrazine is introduced into their environment.”
Emily Roberts, Nina Varvatsas and Shannon Kehoe at last year's Molloy College science fair.
The research partners set up a tank with 30 fiddler crabs in it. They add Atrazine and then observe the crabs’ behavior each day. The pair is being guided by science research teacher Lori Kenny.
Atrazine is typically used to prevent broadleaf weeds in residential lawns and golf courses and in crop fields including those growing corn and sugar cane. It is widely used across the country. The chemical runs off into waters that contain the fiddler crabs.
Last year the two teenagers worked on a project that studied the effect of autonomous sensory meridian response on concentration presented it at a science exposition at Molloy College. They exposed a group of individuals to autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) and compared their results on a math test to the control group. The two have been in the high school’s science research program since their freshman year.
“Our project is going well,” Ms. Varvatsas said. “We had a few problems in the process so far, but we’re improving our procedure to make it more efficient. I really like the class. It is lots of fun and I love Mrs. Kenny. She motivates Emily and me every day to do our best.”
Ms. Varvatsas works hard in all of her academic classes. She babysits in her free time and works with children at a summer camp. Ms. Roberts is another hard worker who earns top grades. She is also on the Blue Devil varsity fencing team.
The research partners have faced some obstacles and serious challenges along the way. “We’ve had some missteps with our project,” Ms. Roberts said. “Over the weekend, a lot of the water in the tank evaporated, leaving the fiddler crabs to live in a small amount of water with very high salinity, and atrazine. About 10 crabs died so we’ve decided to continue with the project and adjust the salinity levels and then we will repeat the project and keep the water levels higher.”
The pair plans on removing experimental crabs from the tank after a month and placing them in a separate tank without chemicals and observing whether their behavior returns to normal in an Atrazine-free environment
“We will be competing with our project at the Long Island Science Conference,” Ms. Roberts said.