Huntington seniors Bryce Vitulli and Ryan Knowles at the LI Science and Engineering Fair at Woodbury.

Huntington Duo Advances in Science Competition

Huntington seniors Bryce Vitulli and Ryan Knowles at the LI Science and Engineering Fair at Woodbury.

March 9, 2019

Huntington High School seniors Bryce Vitulli and Ryan Knowles have developed a dynamic research project that has advanced in the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair competition at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury.

“As a result of increased drought across the world, protections against its consequences have become a commodity, especially within the agricultural industry,” states the duo’s project abstract. “Superabsorbent polymers are a potential solution to this issue, as they increase moisture retention in soil, decrease runoff, and foster plant growth.”

Mr. Vitulli plans to attend Cornell University next fall. Mr. Knowles is headed to the University of Virginia. The pair are extremely high achievers and highly regarded around the high school and community at-large.

“Many commercially-produced superabsorbent polymers are made of polyacrylamide, a non-toxic compound,” according to the project abstract. “Concerns have been raised over polyacrylamide, as it may be possible for the compound to depolymerize and revert into acrylamide, a known neurotoxin and carcinogen. An organic fruit-based superabsorbent polymer may act as a natural, and possibly cheaper, alternative to polyacrylamide based superabsorbent polymers. This experiment aimed to prove that fruit-based superabsorbent polymers (SAPs) are a viable alternative to the synthetic-based SAPs that dominate commercial use.”

The research partners tested a variety of fruit-based superabsorbent polymers, including lemons, apples and oranges. Their findings came as somewhat of a surprise.

“This experiment further aimed to see which fruit might be the most effective for creating a viable, organic SAP alternative,” according to a summary of their project. “It was hypothesized that due to the high content of the highly-absorbent compound known as pectin, if an orange-based superabsorbent polymer was added to the soil, it would yield the largest moisture retention out of the three fruits. It was concluded that there was no statistically significant difference between the SAPs and the control sample, resulting in the alternative hypothesis being unsupported.”

Mr. Knowles recently traveled with 14 of his classmates to Belize during the mid-winter vacation “and it was the vacation of a lifetime,” he said. “This spring, I’m going to be playing for the Huntington tennis team, but before then, I’ll be helping the robotics team try to win the prestigious FIRST Chairman’s Award. I’m thankful for my partner Bryce, because without him, moving on to the second round of LISEF wouldn’t have been possible.”

An intern with the high school’s science research program, Mr. Vitulli has been helping underclassmen “develop and refine” their projects. “Moving on to round two of LISEF is an honor that I’m very grateful to be able to share with Ryan,” he said.