June 8th, 2020

GiS Spotlight: Junior Scientist Award winner Sophie Surheyao

The Junior Scientist Award recognizes the top 5 submissions from middle school teams. Today, we're shining the GiS Spotlight on 2020 Junior Scientist Award winner Sophie Surheyao, who just completed grade 8 at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School. Learn how Sophie came up with her award-winning idea to explore the basis of "space anemia" below.

What was the focus of your experiment? Erythropoietin is a hormone central to the production of red blood cells. My experiment focused on determining whether lower erythropoietin levels are the cause of space anemia. 

2020 JSA Sophie Surheyao

Why did you choose to participate in Genes in Space? While I’ve harbored a love of science for most of my life, I was determined this school year to apply myself to various science competitions. When Genes in Space was brought to my attention by a teacher, it immediately piqued my interest. I absolutely love biology, especially at the molecular and genetic levels. I’ve also been fascinated with (and slightly terrified of) space from a young age and remain confident in my belief that we are not alone in the universe.

How did you choose your topic? It took a while to firmly develop my hypothesis. After watching a video on the Genes in Space website surrounding the effects of space conditions on heart cells, I decided to focus on a different tissue type in the body. I was determined from the beginning to identify a phenomenon less well known than muscular atrophy or the weakening of bones in space. After finding a NASA article about blood cells in space, I knew I wanted to focus on space anemia but it took longer to construct my hypothesis as to why it happened and I went through a couple of ideas until stumbling upon erythropoietin’s role in red blood cell production. 

2020 JSA Sophie Surheyao

What did you gain by participating in Genes in Space? From Genes in Space, I gained a renewed respect for the scientific method. I was eager to develop my hypothesis and experiment at the beginning, but my science teacher reminded me to work through each step. I also gained confidence in myself and my ability, even before I was recognized. I remember waiting anxiously for the results, but knowing that I was immensely proud of my dedication and my submission regardless.

Do you have any advice for future Genes in Space contestants? I think having a plan and staying organized throughout the development process is vital. Still, make sure to give yourself time to explore topics and find one that really speaks to you, while still meeting goals you’ve made for yourself. Also, take advantage of all the resources on the Genes and Space website, especially the scoring criteria. Lastly, believe in yourself. You can do it!